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DNR: Minnesota’s ruffed grouse counts remain high

Ruffed grouse counts remain high in the core of ruffed the grouse range, said the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources. Contrasting this is the sharp-tailed grouse population, which is similar to recent years.

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Minnesota’s ruffed grouse spring population counts are up again from last year and are similar to other recent peaks in the 10-year population cycle of grouse — a pattern recorded for 72 years, according to a study from the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (DNR).

The DNR and its partners use spring drumming counts to help monitor the ruffed grouse breeding population through time.

The recent grouse population trend includes a low point in the cycle in 2021 that was not as low as previous lows, followed by unexpectedly higher counts in 2022 and again this year.

Warm temperatures and dry conditions that favor high nest success and chick survival the past two years may partly explain the quicker than expected rise to levels like recent peaks in the 10-year cycle. Snow conditions also were favorable for roosting throughout much of the core of grouse range during the past two winters.

“While ruffed grouse drumming counts are up in the core of ruffed grouse range, they are not an accurate way to predict the birds that will be present during the fall hunting season,” said Charlotte Roy, DNR grouse project leader. “Nesting success and chick survival during the spring and summer are among the factors that influence the number of birds present in the fall.”

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 drums on established routes throughout the state’s forested regions.

“In a typical year, we have 13 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.”

Sharp-tailed grouse population similar to last year

Minnesota’s sharp-tailed grouse population shows similar levels this year to last year, according to spring population counts conducted by the Minnesota DNR and cooperating organizations.

The population level remains low in east-central Minnesota. The Minnesota DNR closed the hunting season in the east-central zone in 2021. Low population levels in this area are thought to be driven largely by changing habitat conditions. The birds require areas of approximately one to three square miles of grassland and brushland, so managing their habitats often requires cooperation between multiple landowners.

The Minnesota Sharp-tailed Grouse Society, Pheasants Forever and others have collaborated with the Minnesota DNR on targeted habitat management — specifically on prescribed burns, and mowing and tree shearing projects — for sharp-tailed grouse in the east-central range and remain committed to enhancing open-land habitats.

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