WI 2013 Ruffed grouse survey indicates slight population decline

MADISON – Ruffed grouse populations in Wisconsin have shown another slight decline this spring, according to results of the recently completed roadside ruffed grouse survey.

“The index that Wisconsin uses to track ruffed grouse decreased 9 percent between 2012 and 2013,” said Brian Dhuey, Department of Natural Resources wildlife surveys coordinator. “This decrease isn’t unexpected at this point in the population cycle. Ruffed grouse populations are known to boom and bust over a nine- to 11-year cycle. Grouse populations in Wisconsin tend to be at their peak in years ending in a nine or zero.”

The roadside survey to monitor the number of breeding grouse has been conducted by staff from the DNR, U.S. Forest Service, tribal employees, and numerous grouse enthusiasts and volunteers since 1964. Surveyors begin 30 minutes before sunrise and drive along established routes, making 10 stops at assigned points and listening for four minutes for the distinctive “thump, thump, thump” sounds made by drumming male grouse. Results from this survey help DNR biologists monitor the cyclic population dynamics of ruffed grouse in the state.

The number of drums heard per stop in 2013 was down 9 percent statewide from the previous year. One of the primary regions for grouse in the state, the central region, showed an 18 percent drop in the number of drums heard per stop, yet the other primary region in the north showed a 2 percent increase.
Intensive surveys were also run on two research areas. The Sandhill Wildlife Area in Wood County showed a decline of 5 percent. The Stone Lake Experimental Area in Oneida County showed an increase of 2 percent.

According to Scott Walter, DNR upland wildlife ecologist, maturation of southern Wisconsin’s forest community in recent decades, and the resulting loss of dense, brushy areas that grouse need for cover, has contributed to lower numbers of grouse.

“Ruffed grouse are closely linked to young forest habitats that develop following large disturbances, notably logging activities,” Walter said. “While we often focus as hunters on grouse numbers in a single year, it’s important to remember that the long-term health of grouse and other early-successional wildlife is dependent upon our ability to create the dense young cover they require. Lacking significant, broad-scale forms of natural disturbance such as fire, we need to ensure that intensive timber harvests remain a component of our forest management activities.”

In regard to the slight increase in northern Wisconsin, Gary Zimmer, coordinating biologist for the Ruffed Grouse Society, points to the weather.

"Weather, especially during the brood rearing period in late May and early June, plays an important role in ruffed grouse numbers," said Zimmer. "The slight increase shown in this spring’s northern region drumming counts, even in a downward cycle, can definitely be tied to 2012's excellent brood rearing conditions with its lengthy dry, warm period in June.

“Unfortunately, this spring’s weather is not following the same pattern and it is doubtful fall grouse numbers will be comparable to last year in the north woods. However, even with lower populations, Wisconsin still has some of the best grouse hunting in the country," Zimmer said.

Complete survey results can be found by searching the DNR website for “ wildlife reports.”
For more information, search the DNR website for “ruffed grouse hunting."

FOR MORE INFORMATION CONTACT: Scott Walter, upland wildlife ecologist, 608-267-7861 or Brian Dhuey, wildlife surveys coordinator, 608-221-6342

Volunteers help Michigan DNRE biologists band woodcock

For the majority of pointing-dog enthusiasts, nothing compares to autumn, when hunting season is open and hunters can spend their days with their best friends in pursuit of upland birds. But for a small minority of bird-dog aficionados, there's even more fun to be had in spring.

Spring is the other bird season: banding season, when hunters exchange their firearms for landing nets and pursue woodcock with the express purpose of capturing them, only to release them as soon as they've been festooned with small metal leg bands.

From April until June, a small contingent of dedicated bird-dog owners takes to the wood lots of Michigan to locate and band the needle-nosed migrants. The bands that are returned by hunters provide important information to wildlife managers about the population, distribution and life history of woodcock.

Woodcock are migratory birds that are more closely related to shore birds than they are to other upland game birds, but have adapted to forested habitat. Woodcock prefer early-age forests with moist soils.
Mottled brown birds with long beaks that they use to feed by probing the moist earth for invertebrates, woodcock are so well camouflaged that their first instinct, when approached, is to freeze. That makes them perfect for pursuit with pointing dogs.

The small metal band on a woodcock's leg will provide biologists information on the population, distribution and life history of the birds when hunters return them from birds they've taken
Michigan leads the nation in woodcock banding, largely because of its volunteer army of woodcock banders. Every year, volunteers spend more than 1,000 hours in Michigan wood lots, banding 1,000 or more mostly recently hatched woodcock.

Michigan has been in the forefront of banding since 1960, when federal wildlife officials asked state natural resources agencies in woodcock production states to help band large numbers of woodcock for a population study. Michigan wildlife biologist G. A. "Andy" Ammann participated in the banding effort and helped refine the technique of using pointing dogs to locate woodcock broods.

Woodcock are closely related to shore birds but have adapted to the young forested uplands
By 1965, six people, mostly professional wildlife biologists, were actively banding woodcock in Michigan. But as time progressed, Ammann and others trained volunteers to join the effort. By the mid 1990s, there were about 100 volunteers banding woodcock in the state.

The drill is fairly simple: Volunteers take to the forests with their dogs. The dogs point nesting or brooding woodcock hens. Using long-handled nets, the volunteers capture the hens -- if they can - which they'll band before they release them. But they also look for nests or chicks on the ground.

When a brooding hen is flushed, she'll typically fly just a short distance and then feign a broken wing, a behavior designed to draw the bander away from the chicks. It's a tip-off to banders that chicks are present.

Woodcock chicks, like this week-old bird, depend on their natural camouflage to avoid danger
The mottled brown and yellow chicks blend perfectly into the early spring vegetation; it takes eagle eyes to spot them as they remain motionless, waiting for the perceived danger to pass. After the banders have searched the area visually, identifying what chicks they can find, the banders gently pick up the chicks. That usually prompts the chicks to start peeping; the calls typically spur the remaining chick to begin running, making them more visible.

The banders work quickly to minimize stress to the chicks. They measure the chick's beak to help determine its age. (Woodcock are born with a 14 mm beak and it grows 2 mm a day). They attach a thin metal band with a serial number to the chick's leg and record all relevant data. Then they release the chicks. The hen and chicks soon re-unite. In fact, many woodcock banders recount having a hen fly back and sit nearby while they band the chicks.

Not just anyone can band woodcock. Would-be woodcock banders must attend a mandatory workshop, study under the guidance of an experienced bander, and have their dogs certified as able to perform the task without jeopardizing the birds' safety. The Department of Natural Resources and Environment issues permits to allowing individuals to band woodcock.

Volunteer Randy Strouse and his English setter Allie hunt woodcock for banding every spring
Randy Strouse, a retired skilled tradesman in an auto plant, has been banding woodcock since 1991. Strouse says he tries to spend at least 60 hours in the woods banding each spring and usually bands more than 50 birds, though he has surpassed 80 some years.

"I hunt, just like anyone else, but if I see a woodcock on the ground and it has a band, I won't shoot it when it flushes," Strouse said. "If it's this year's bird, you wouldn't be able to gather any information from it."

Strouse will gladly tell you he'd rather band woodcock than hunt them.
"The banding community really likes doing this," Strouse said. "If I had to give up one or the other, I'd give up hunting."

Banding woodcock makes it possible for hunters to contribute to conservation efforts in a hands-on manner. And it makes the whole effort practical.

"Without the volunteer banders, we wouldn't be able to band anywhere near the number of woodcock we band each year," said Al Stewart, the DNRE's upland game bird specialist. "It's the main reason Michigan leads the nation in the number of woodcock banded."

Banders are busy in the Michigan woods right now and will continue through early June, by which time the bulk of the chicks have developed enough that they can fly and further banding efforts are fruitless.

Original MI DNR article

MI Ruffed Grouse Society to hold Gun Dog Fun Field Trials in New Era

By Stephen Kloosterman | sklooste@mlive.com  Follow on Twitter

The West Michigan Lakeshore Chapter of the Ruffed Grouse Society plans to hold its Gun Dog Fun Trial in New Era this year.

The annual event for hunters and their dogs will be held 8 a.m. Sunday, June 23 at Modaka Kennels, 5023 S. 48th Ave. in New Era.

The event, heading into its fifth year, has previously been held at a Zeeland location, but won't be able to use the location this year due to a scheduled burn by the property owner.

The Gun Dog Fun Trial is a chance for hunters and their dogs to compete against each other and hone their skills for hunting game birds.

“It’s set up for the guy that goes out and hunts every week with his dog,” said Nick Moe, president of the West Michigan Chapter of the Ruffed Grouse Society.

Both pointing and flushing breeds compete in the event. Each dog-and-man team has 20 minutes in a field to find two pen-raised birds, called Chukars, that have been planted in the field. The teams have to flush out the birds and shoot them.

“It’s definitely a competitive thing,” Moe said. 

More information and the complete MLive article Plus photo slide show