Minnesota’s ruffed grouse spring population counts are down from last year as expected during the declining phase of the species’ 10-year cycle — a predictable pattern recorded for 72 years. Although peaks vary from eight to 11 years apart, the most recent peak in the cycle occurred in 2017.
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 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.
The spring drumming counts are an important 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. Conversely, when production of young is high, hunters may see more birds than anticipated in the fall.
The 2021 statewide survey results for ruffed grouse were 1.3 drums per stop. The most recent peak in 2017 was 2.1 drums per stop. During the low point of the cycles, counts are typically about 0.8 drums per stop.
Drum counts were 1.4 drums per stop in the northeast survey region; 1.1 drums per stop in the northwest; 0.8 drums per stop in the central hardwoods; and 0.9 drums per stop in the southeast survey region.