Ruffed grouse population appears to have peaked
Minnesota's ruffed grouse spring drumming counts were significantly lower than last year across most of their range, according to a report released by the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (DNR).
"It looks like 2009 was probably the peak in the 10-year population cycle," said Mike Larson, DNR research scientist and grouse biologist. "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.
One reason for Minnesota's status as a top grouse producer is an abundance of aspen and other ruffed grouse habitat, much of it located on county, state and national forests, where public hunting is allowed. An estimated 11.5 million of the state's 16.3 million acres of forest are grouse habitat.
For the past 60 years, DNR biologists have monitored ruffed grouse populations. This year,
DNR staff and cooperators from 15 organizations surveyed 125 routes across the state.
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.