Minnesota’s ruffed grouse spring population counts are up from last year, which was not expected during the current declining phase of the 10-year cycle — a pattern recorded for 72 years.
“While ruffed grouse drumming counts are up, they are not a reliable way to predict the fall hunting season,” said Charlotte Roy, grouse project leader with the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources. “We also recorded an increase in sharp-tailed grouse in east-central Minnesota, which is positive this year but could be short-lived.”
Unexpectedly high ruffed grouse counts this year may have resulted from the warm temperatures and dry conditions last year during May and June, which favors high nest success and chick survival. Snow conditions also were favorable during winter for roosting throughout much of the core of grouse range.
The DNR and its partners use spring drumming counts to help monitor the ruffed grouse breeding population through time. 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.
“In a typical year, we have 16 cooperating organizations providing folks to help us count grouse drumming,” Roy said. “We are grateful to our federal and tribal partners for their assistance in completing routes.”
Historically, these spring counts were related to the fall population; however, in recent years, drumming counts have not reliably predicted the fall hunting season.
The number of birds present during the fall hunting season also depends upon nesting success and chick survival during the spring and summer. Nesting success and chick survival are influenced by many factors, including weather during May and June, which has been more extreme in recent years, and other factors, including disease and predators. This year in May and June, heavy rainfall and flooding affected much of the core of ruffed grouse range.
The ruffed grouse survey report can be found on the grouse management page of the DNR website.