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Survey Suggests Increase in Breeding Ruffed Grouse

MADISON – Roadside ruffed grouse surveys completed in spring 2017 showed statewide drumming activity increased 17 percent from 2016, based on data collected to monitor breeding grouse activity.


"An increase in breeding grouse activity hopefully will mean an increase in grouse nesting and brood rearing, which could mean more grouse for hunters to pursue this fall," said Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources wildlife survey coordinator Brian Dhuey. "Ruffed grouse populations are known to rise and fall over a 9- to 11-year cycle, and the last peak in Wisconsin's cycle occurred in 2011 - survey results suggest that we have passed the low point in the population cycle and have started the increasing phase, which should continue the next few years as the grouse population moves toward the next peak."


Male ruffed grouse drum in springtime to attract females./RGS

Since 1964, roadside surveys to monitor the number of breeding grouse have been conducted by staff from the department, U.S. Forest Service, tribal employees, and numerous grouse enthusiasts and volunteers.


The northern and southwest regions of the state showed increases in 2017, while the southeast and central regions remained stable or showed small declines. While increases in the southwest part of the state were the largest by percentage, this area is not within the primary range for grouse. The increase in activity in southwestern Wisconsin follows near historic lows, and likely would not add significantly to grouse abundance in the state.


Results from the 2017 survey show that grouse populations in both the southwest and southeast regions remain well below historic levels. According to Mark Witecha, a DNR upland wildlife ecologist, the maturing of southern Wisconsin's forests and the resulting loss of dense, brushy areas that grouse need for cover has resulted in lower numbers of grouse in recent decades.


"Ruffed grouse rely on dense, young forest cover resulting from disturbances such as fire and logging," said Witecha. "Beyond actively managing state-owned lands, Wisconsin DNR is working to provide suitable grouse habitat through an extensive collaborative effort known as the Wisconsin Young Forest Partnership. The Partnership provides technical and financial assistance for young forest management on private lands, benefiting ruffed grouse and other wildlife species by helping maintain healthy and diverse forest communities."

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