By Joel Schnell
It may be the largest organism by mass in the world, and one of the oldest still living. Ruffed grouse thrive in it’s ecosystem, along with a lot of other critters. It’s all over North America and as common as it gets to Minnesotans- the aspen tree.
Wearing the World Champion Belt
In the Fishlake National Forest, in Utah, stands the champ. Covering 107 acres, some 47,000 aspen trees are genetically identical stems of one plant, weighing in at over 6,600 tons. No youngster, it may be one million years old.
Oh sure, there are pretenders to the throne. A giant underground fungus in Oregon, covering over a thousand acres, makes it’s claim. Really, a fungus? Well, measuring by area occupied, that’s just geography. I’m putting my money on largest mass, and it happens to benefit ruffed grouse like no other habitat.
The Ruffed Grouse and Aspen
Gordon Gullion studied ruffed grouse for the U of M at the Cloquet Forestry Center for decades. In his book “Managing Northern Forests for Wildlife” he spells it out.
“At some time during their life cycle the aspens can provide the best quality cover and food resources for ruffed grouse at each stage of this bird’s annual life cycle. No other plant does this.
It is probably no coincidence that by far the greatest portion of the continental ruffed grouse population occurs in areas where aspens are, or have been, a prominent part of the forest composition.”
“Throughout the primary ruffed grouse range in the Great Lakes States… aspen appears to be the most important plant contributing to their year-long welfare. “
Aspen provides ruffed grouse food, shelter, and protection from predators like no other ecosystem. That’s not to say you should ignore all other cover types when hunting them. My friend Jay cautions against it, calling it
“wearing the aspen blinders“.
Alder swamps in particular are another grouse favorite, along with any kind of edge cover like an old forest road. Ruffed Grouse are truly a bird of many habitats.
Hail to the King
If the ruffed grouse is the king of game birds, where does the King hold court? Likely in an aspen grove. Next time you stroll through that familiar Minnesota aspen forest, think about how amazing our friend really is.
And say thanks for the ruffed grouse.
published May 23, 2016
Joel Schnell is publisher of www.ruffedgrouseminnesota.com
He can be reached at info[at]ruffedgrouseminnesota.com