By Joel Schnell for Ruffedgrouseminnesota.com
The drumming counts are in, so what can we expect this grouse season on the ground?
The short answer, is the count is down 29% compared to last year (emphasis added). But let’s not get too excited about that number, what does it really mean? For decades now, volunteers have been driving routes to record ruffed grouse populations. They stop the car at intervals, and listen for a ruffed grouse drumming. Over time, a graphic picture of populations emerged, showing peaks about every 10 years. The last peak was around 2009.
Last year’s count was up 57% over the previous year, a whopper of an increase. Too good to be true, and it was. Nobody saw birds in the fall that matched that expectation. Only drumming males are counted, not chicks and hens that live until the fall. A lot depends on the weather, how well the chicks survived the spring rains. And the last two springs, the rains have been heavy enough to be detrimental to nesting success for ground nesting birds.
If we consider last year’s count as an anomaly, as represented by the red “X”, we still have 4 years of count reports indicating an incline in bird numbers (increase denoted by blue arrow).
Particularly interesting, look at the last peak. Around 2010 the count significantly dropped, but then rebounded in 2011. We could see the same thing happen next year.
Or we could see a more flattened peak for a few years, as the population needs to rebound from two consecutive years of heavy spring rains decreasing the hatch.
Or we could see what the MN DNR said in their press release “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.”
It’s fair to assume in future years the grouse peak will become less and less, due to less aspen harvesting and other factors occurring in the grouse woods. But peaks or not, there will always be ruffed grouse in Minnesota’s Northwoods. Enjoy the hunt every year.
Ruffed grouse counts down, sharp-tailed grouse down too
by MN DNR
July 2, 2018
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.
By Joel Schnell
Posted July 4, 2018.
Joel Schnell is publisher of www.ruffedgrouseminnesota.com
He can be reached at info[at]ruffedgrouseminnesota.com
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