Ruffed grouse counts unchanged from last year (2005-06-14)
Results from this year's spring ruffed grouse drumming count survey show that the bird's numbers are virtually unchanged from last year. Many hunters were hoping this year's count would be higher, indicating an upswing in the grouse population, which tends to rise and fall in an approximate 10-year cycle. Counts have been at the low end of the scale for the past five consecutive years.
"We're looking at this carefully, but we're not alarmed," said Mike Larson, Department of Natural Resources (DNR) wildlife research biologist. "Similar four- to five-year periods of relatively low drum counts have occurred as recently as the early 1980s."
Ruffed grouse populations are surveyed by counting the number of male ruffed grouse heard drumming on established routes throughout the state's ruffed grouse range.
This year, surveyors recorded an average of 0.8 drums per stop statewide. Last year's average was also 0.8 drums per stop. During years of high grouse abundance averages of 1.8 to 2.0 drums per stop are typical.
Larson said weather this spring and summer could determine this fall's hunting conditions. "Ruffed grouse abundance this fall likely will depend nearly as much upon recruitment of juveniles as on densities of males during spring," he said. "Unfortunately, the cool, wet weather so far this spring has not been ideal for nesting success and chick survival."
The ruffed grouse is the state's number one upland game species in terms of birds harvested. Minnesota consistently ranks within the top three states for harvest and is frequently the nation's top ruffed grouse producer. At the peak, Minnesota's annual harvest often exceeds 1.2 million birds. The average annual harvest is 600,000 birds.
For 56 years, DNR biologists have tracked ruffed grouse populations. This year, volunteers and DNR staff surveyed 122 routes. Larson said he is planning to examine how habitat, predators, and other factors influence the productivity and survival of ruffed grouse.
SHARP-TAILED NUMBERS UNCHANGED
Sharp-tailed grouse numbers remained similar to those found in 2004 as well, Larson said. Observers look for male sharptails dancing on traditional mating areas, called leks.
The last 20 years, the sharp-tailed grouse index has been approximately seven to 11 birds counted per dancing ground. This year's statewide mean of 9.5 birds counted per dancing ground was in the middle of that range, similar to last year's average of 10. Sharptail population fluctuations have mirrored the ruffed grouse population cycle.
However, sharptail populations appear to have declined over the long term as a result of habitat deterioration. In recent years, the DNR has increased prescribed burning and shearing that keeps trees from overtaking the open brush lands that sharp-tailed grouse need to survive.