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Wisconsin ruffed grouse survey results indicate a decrease in breeding grouse

Published by Central Office June 12, 2018

Contact(s): Mark Witecha, DNR upland wildlife ecologist, 608-267-7861

MADISON - Roadside ruffed grouse surveys completed this spring showed statewide drumming activity decreased 34 percent between 2017 and 2018; while this decline does not follow the generally predictable grouse population cycle, the 2018 drumming observations do fall within the normal range of variability of the grouse cycle.

Ruffed grouse - Photo credit: Kevin Feind
Ruffed grousePhoto credit: Kevin Feind

The survey results showed a 34 percent decrease statewide over 2017 levels. The down turn was seen in both the central (-29 percent) and northern (-38 percent) forest regions of the state. These two areas comprise the primary grouse range in Wisconsin. While the decreases in the southwest (-14 percent) part of the state were smaller by percentage, and an increase in the southeast was observed, these areas are not within the primary range for grouse. The drumming activity in southwestern and southeastern Wisconsin are at or near historic lows, and likely would not significantly add to grouse abundance in the state.

For complete "roadside ruffed grouse survey results [PDF], visit and search keywords "reports."

"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. Based on the historical grouse cycle in Wisconsin, it was expected there would have been a significant drop in the population in the northern forest back around 2015; however, the population decline was only about half as low as anticipated," said Mark Witecha, Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources upland wildlife ecologist.

"With this somewhat abbreviated low point in the population cycle in 2015, an increasing phase lasting several years is expected, so a decline in 2018 is not consistent with a typical population cycle, but does confirm the reports we received from hunters last fall. As these survey results indicate, there is some variation from the historical pattern in the grouse population over the last several years, specifically in the primary northern range. In the more southern survey areas, a long-term decline in the population is consistent with a loss of quality young forest habitat."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.

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.

From Seeds to Sky

"Ruffed grouse rely on dense, young forest cover resulting from disturbances such as fire and logging - 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," said Witecha. "This partnership provides technical and financial assistance for young forest management on private lands, benefitting ruffed grouse and other wildlife species by helping maintain healthy and diverse forest communities."

For more information regarding grouse hunting in Wisconsin, search keywords "ruffed grouse hunting." To learn more about managing habitat for ruffed grouse and other wildlife species, search keywords "young forest."

Last Revised: Tuesday, June 12, 2018

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