Outdoors blog: Ruffed grouse numbers down this spring
By: Sam Cook, Duluth News Tribune
Minnesota drumming grouse numbers plummet
It looks as if last year marked the peak in Minnesota's ruffed grouse 10-year population cycle. Spring drumming counts were down 31 percent this year compared to last year in the northeast region, according to the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources.
“It looks like 2009 was probably the peak in the 10-year population cycle,” said Mike Larson, DNR research scientist and grouse biologist, in a prepared statement. “Drumming counts this spring, however, were still closer to those at the high rather than low end of the cycle.”
Ruffed grouse populations, which tend to rise and fall on a 10-year cycle, are surveyed by counting the number of male ruffed grouse heard drumming on established routes throughout the state’s forested regions. This year observers recorded 1.5 drums per stop statewide. Last year’s average was 2.0 drums per stop. Counts vary from about 0.8 drums per stop during years of low grouse abundance to about 1.9 during years of high abundance.
Drumming counts decreased 31 percent compared to those during 2009 in the northeast survey region, the core and bulk of grouse range in Minnesota, to 1.6 drums per stop. Grouse counts decreased 29 percent in the southeast region, from 0.5 to 0.3 drums per stop, but the difference was not statistically significant. Counts of 1.8 drums per stop in the northwest and 1.0 drums per stop in the central hardwoods were similar to last year’s counts.
Minnesota frequently is the nation’s top ruffed grouse producer. On average, 115,000 hunters harvest 545,000 ruffed grouse in Minnesota each year, also making it the state’s most popular game bird. During the peak years of 1971 and 1989, hunters harvested more than 1 million ruffed grouse. Michigan and Wisconsin, which frequently field more hunters than Minnesota, round out the top three states in ruffed grouse harvest.
Sharp-tailed counts down slightly
Sharp-tailed grouse counts in the northwest survey region decreased approximately 5 percent between 2009 and 2010, Larson said. Counts in the east-central region declined approximately 1 percent. Observers look for male sharptails displaying on traditional mating areas, called leks or dancing grounds.
This year’s statewide average of 10.7 grouse counted per dancing ground was similar to counts during 2003 to 2007 and the long-term average since 1980. Last year’s average of 13.6 was as high as during any year since 1980. During the past 25 years, the sharp-tailed grouse index has been as low as seven birds counted per dancing ground.
Overall, 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 keep trees from overtaking the open brush lands that sharp-tailed grouse need to thrive.