The annual tally of ruffed grouse drumming across northern Minnesota was unchanged this year from last year, the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources reported Monday.
The statewide average count was 1.5 drums per stop, the same as last year and down from 2.1 drums in 2017.
The survey, in which wildlife experts drive to predetermined spots in the woods and listen for male grouse displaying their spring drumming ritual, range from about 0.6 drums per stop in very poor years to above 2.0 in high population years.
The drumming count is a general accounting of grouse population trends, although brood survival — how many of this year’s newborn chicks survive past summer — is probably a bigger factor in the number of grouse that hunters will see in the woods this autumn.
The stagnant drumming count contrasts with Wisconsin which saw a more than 40 percent increase in drumming this spring statewide and a 48 percent increase in Northwestern counties. Male grouse drum, or beat their wings rapidly, often while strutting on a downed log or rock, to attract female mates.
This was the 70th year of the annual DNR survey. Grouse populations generally rise and fall on a 10-year cycle that can range from 8-11 years between peaks. The most recent peak population was in 2017 with the population now apparently on the way down. In the northeast survey region, which is the core of Minnesota’s grouse range, counts were 1.6 drums per stop; in the northwest there were 2.1 drums per stop; in the central hardwoods, 0.8 drums per stop; and in the southeast, 0.7 drums per stop.
Meanwhile the DNR reported Monday an average 10.2 sharp-tailed grouse per lek, or display area, from the annual sharptail spring survey. That’s similar to the long-term average since 1980. Overall sharptail numbers remain very low, however, with far fewer leks than in past decades.