Weather conditions were generally favorable for ruffed grouse broods this past spring after a delay in nesting due to the long lasting winter conditions. This followed a winter with excellent overwintering conditions due to the deep fluffy snowpack that persisted in much of the state from mid-November into April (and beyond in many places) making for excellent snow roosting habitat.
Information provided by Al Stewart, upland game bird specialist with the Michigan Department of Natural Resources, indicated that ruffed grouse drumming counts were conducted statewide along 105 survey routes during April and May 2014. An average of 12.43 drums were heard per route statewide, a 16 percent increase from the 2013 (10.77) average. The highest drumming counts were in Zone 1 (Upper Peninsula; 14.86), followed by Zone 2 (Northern Lower Peninsula; 11.64) and Zone 3 (Southern Lower Peninsula; 4.14).
Table provided by Al Stewart, MDNR.
“In Michigan, we are a step-up from the bottom of the 10-year-cycle based on the 2014 spring drumming grouse survey.” said Stewart. “Our survey data suggests that the Michigan grouse population last peaked in 2010 and the most recent low in grouse abundance occurred during 2004-2005. My prediction is that in 2014, grouse hunters will experience flush rates similar to 2013. If production is good (field biologists are reporting more broods than last year), there may be a slight increase in the number of grouse seen this fall. The opening date for ruffed grouse hunting season is September 15.”
U.S. Fish and Wildlife survey data on American woodcock from this past spring indicate that populations were down 4.4 percent along the 95 surveyed routes in Michigan. Stewart pointed out that this was “not unexpected due to a cold, wet spring in 2013” and that “prolonged winter conditions this spring may have impacted 2014 woodcock production in Michigan.” Based on state and federal survey information, Stewart predicts “that woodcock hunters this fall can expect a season similar to 2013.” The opening date for woodcock hunting in Michigan’s 45-day woodcock season is Saturday, September 20.
Information from Minnesota Department of Natural Resources: Minnesota’s ruffed grouse spring drumming counts were significantly higher than last year across most of the bird’s range, according to a survey conducted by the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources.
“Ruffed grouse drums increased 34 percent from the previous year, with the increase happening in the northern part of the state,” said Charlotte Roy, DNR grouse project leader. “This may signal the start of an upswing in the grouse cycle that since 2009 has been in the declining phase.”
The increase is consistent with changes typical of the 10-year grouse cycle. The most recent peak in drum counts occurred in 2009. The cycle is less pronounced in the more southern regions of the state, near the edge of the ruffed grouse range.
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.
Compared to last year’s survey, 2014 survey results for ruffed grouse indicated increases in the northeast survey region, which is the core of grouse range in Minnesota, from 0.9 drums per stop in 2013 to 1.3 in 2014. Drumming counts in the northwest increased from 0.7 drums per stop in 2013 to 1.2 in 2014. Drumming counts did not increase in the central hardwoods or southeast, with an average of 0.8 and 0.3 drums per stop, respectively.
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 1.1 drums per stop statewide. The averages during 2012 and 2013 were 1.0 and 0.9, respectively. Counts vary from about 0.6 drums per stop during years of low grouse abundance to about 2.0 during years of high abundance.
Drumming counts are an 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.
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 65 years, DNR biologists have monitored ruffed grouse populations. This year, DNR staff and cooperators from 11 organizations surveyed 121 routes across the state. For more information, see www.mndnr.gov.