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Minnesota’s ruffed grouse spring drumming counts were significantly higher than last year across must of the bird’s range, according to a survey conducted by Minnesota’s DNR.  “Ruffed grouse drums increased 343 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 occorred in 2009.  The cycle is less pronounced in the more southern regions of the state, near the edge of the ruffed grouse range.

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 18.3 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.

Sharp-tailed grouse counts were higher in 2014 than in 2013, although changes were not significant at the regional level.  However sharptail populations have declined in some areas as a result of habitat deterioration.  In recent years, the DNR has increased prescribed burning and shearing that keep trees from overtaking the open brush lands that sharp-tailed grouse need to thrive.  This habitat management is important for healthy sharp-tailed grouse populations.

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