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June 23, 2015

MADISON - Ruffed grouse enthusiasts should expect bird encounters similar to last year, according to the recently completed roadside ruffed grouse survey.

For complete survey results, search the Department of Natural Resources website,, and search keywords "wildlife reports."

"While we did see some continued regional declines, our roadside survey index to track ruffed grouse populations is essentially unchanged from 2014," said Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources wildlife survey coordinator Brian Dhuey. "Ruffed grouse populations are known to rise and fall over a nine to 11 year cycle, and the last peak in Wisconsin's cycle occurred in 2011. Survey results suggest that we have reached the low point in the population cycle and we should start to see increases in the next few years as the grouse population moves toward the next peak."

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 since 1964. Surveys begin 30 minutes before sunrise and consist of 10 stops at assigned points. Surveyors listen for four minutes for the distinctive thumping sounds made by drumming male grouse. Surveyors monitored 88 routes this year.

While the number of drums heard per stop statewide in 2015 was similar to last year, there were some notable differences among regions. While one of the primary regions for grouse in the state, the northern region, showed a 13 percent drop in the number of drums heard per stop, the primary region in central Wisconsin showed a 38 percent increase.

Weather conditions influence drumming activity by male grouse, and most observers felt weather conditions were conducive to accurate surveys this spring. Surveyors rated the overall survey conditions as "excellent" on 65 percent of transects runs, compared to 56 percent in 2014. Surveyors rated 2015 conditions as "fair," the lowest available weather condition rating, five percent of the time in 2015, compared to 7 percent in 2014.

According to DNR Upland Wildlife Ecologist Scott Walter, maturation of southern Wisconsin's forest community in recent decades and the resulting loss of dense, brushy areas that grouse need for cover has resulted in lower numbers of grouse in the region in recent decades. Results from the 2015 survey show that grouse populations in both the southwest and southeast region remain well below historic levels.

"Ruffed grouse are closely linked to young forests" said Walter. "While grouse enthusiasts often focus on numbers in a single year, the long-term health of grouse is dependent upon the availability of the dense young forest cover they require. In Wisconsin, we are working to provide the habitat needed to benefit ruffed grouse and many other wildlife species through proactive approaches to forest management that will maximize the health and diversity of forest communities."

Dan Dessecker, Director of Conservation Policy for the Ruffed Grouse Society, reminds hunters of the importance of weather in grouse population dynamics.

"While cold temperatures and deep snow are generally hard on resident wildlife populations, ruffed grouse often thrive in such winters," noted Dessecker. "This past winter saw crusted snow conditions across much of Wisconsin, and this can limit a grouse's ability to burrow into the snow where it is protected from cold temperatures and predators. On the other hand, temperatures this winter were relatively mild until late February and early March when we experienced temperatures well below zero. Snow depths don't really hamper grouse from feeding in the winter because they eat primarily buds from aspen and other trees at this time of year."

According to Dessecker, weather conditions, especially during the brood rearing period in late May and early June, also play an important role in the fall ruffed grouse numbers. Newly-hatched grouse chicks are very sensitive to chilling, and warm, dry conditions can provide for high survival during the first few weeks of life.

"Grouse hunters are used to the cyclic nature of ruffed grouse populations, and they know that grouse can still be found in the best cover during low periods," continued Dessecker. "Hunters might have to work a bit harder to flush birds, but sunny October days with your dog in the north woods are tough to beat, and Wisconsin still has some of the best grouse hunting in the country."

For more information regarding grouse hunting in Wisconsin, search the DNR website,, for keywords "ruffed grouse hunting."

FOR MORE INFORMATION CONTACT: Scott Walter, upland wildlife ecologist, 608-267-7861 or Brian Dhuey, wildlife surveys coordinator, 608-221-6342

Last Revised: Tuesday, June 23, 2015

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