Friday, September 12, 2014

State, UMaine biologists embark on ambitious ruffed grouse research project

By John Holyoke, BDN Staff

At a semi-secret site deep in the woods, wildlife biologist Kelsey Sullivan spent Wednesday evening helping to gather data he expects will eventually provide the first clear picture of the life, death and breeding habits of one of state’s iconic game birds, the ruffed grouse.

The Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife has teamed up with the University of Maine on the study, thanks in part to a $190,000 federal grant and matching UMaine funding, in order to trap, tag and fit radio collars on grouse that will be released and followed for a year.

The study itself is scheduled to last three years, but more work may be pursued after that, according to the UMaine assistant professor who is leading the research.

“This is the first very large scale investigation of ruffed grouse populations in natural history in the state of Maine,” Erik Blomberg, UMaine assistant professor of wildlife ecology, said.

Blomberg, a scientist who was first introduced to grouse by his dad, an avid Wisconsin bird hunter, said there’s a pretty simple reason why grouse haven’t been the subject of more research in this state.
“In science, we tend to only study animals when they have problems, and [consequently,] ruffed grouse have not had much attention focused on them.”

That has changed dramatically over the past several months, as Blomberg, two graduate students and the DIF&W have teamed up.

Sullivan is the DIF&W’s game bird biologist. Among the first questions he’d like to answer: How are the birds living, reproducing and surviving?

To find the answers to those questions, Blomberg, Sullivan and field crew leader Brittany Currier needed some study birds. They’ve set up two sites as midcoast and northern study areas, and will actively trap birds at both until bird-hunting season opens in October.

The BDN isn’t sharing the exact locations of those sites at the request of researchers. Blomberg said it was important to keep those sites as secret as possible to prevent an unnatural increase in the number of hunters in those areas. Normal hunting pressure is fine, he said, but the research effort is designed to track what actually exists, rather than what might exist after a particular hunting area is publicized.

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