Minnesota’s ruffed grouse spring drumming counts were down 29 percent statewide this year compared to last year, according to a survey conducted by the Department of Natural Resources.
“Surveys indicate the peak occurred last year,” said Charlotte Roy, DNR grouse project leader. “Grouse populations tend to rise and fall on a decade-long cycle and counts this year are pointing to the peak lasting only one year this cycle. This has occurred before, but it’s always nice when the cycle stays high a little longer.”
Drumming is a low sound produced by males as they beat their wings rapidly and in increasing frequency to signal the location of their territory. Drumming displays also attract females that are ready to begin nesting. Ruffed grouse populations are surveyed by counting the number of male ruffed grouse heard drumming on established routes throughout the state’s forested regions.
Drumming counts are an indicator of the ruffed grouse breeding population. The number of birds present during the fall hunting season also depends upon nesting success and chick survival during the spring and summer.
“If production of young birds is low during the summer months, hunters may see fewer birds than expected based on counts of drumming males in the spring,” Roy said. “Conversely, when production of young is high, hunters may see more birds in the fall.”
For the past 69 years, DNR biologists have monitored ruffed grouse populations. This year, DNR staff and cooperators from 16 organizations surveyed 122 routes across the state.
The 2018 survey results for ruffed grouse were 1.5 drums per stop statewide. The averages during 2013, 2014, 2015, 2016 and 2017 were 0.9, 1.1, 1.1, 1.3 and 2.1 respectively. Counts vary from about 0.6 drums per stop during years of low grouse abundance to about 2.0 during years of high abundance.
Results this year follow an increase from 2016 to 2017. In the northeast survey region, which is the core of Minnesota’s grouse range, counts were 1.7 drums per stop; in the northwest there were 1.0 drums per stop; in the central hardwoods, 0.9 drums per stop; and in the southeast, 0.9 drums per stop.
Sharp-tailed grouse counts down
To count sharp-tailed grouse, observers look for males displaying on traditional mating areas, which are called leks or dancing grounds.
Comparisons of the same leks counted in both years indicate that counts per lek were down compared to last year in the northwest and statewide. Declines in the east-central region were not significant, likely because fewer leks were counted compared to last year, and loss of small leks does not reduce the index.
This year’s statewide average of 9.3 sharp-tailed grouse per lek was similar to the long-term average since 1980. The 2009 average of 13.6 was as high as during any year since 1980. During the last 25 years, the sharp-tailed grouse index has been as low as seven birds counted per dancing ground.
The DNR’s 2018 grouse survey report and grouse hunting information can be found at mndnr.gov/hunting/grouse.