The Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources this week announced the results of annual ruffed grouse surveys, with drumming activity down 6% statewide this spring compared to 2019.
No drumming surveys were conducted in 2020 due to COVID-19 restrictions for DNR staff and other surveyors.
Ruffed grouse typically follow a 10-year population cycle with cyclic highs occurring near the beginning of each decade. Wildlife officials say it’s likely the recent peak occurred in 2019 or 2020 and that 2021 will begin the down part of the cycle.
Northern Wisconsin forests saw a 7% decrease in the number of drums per stop from 2019 levels, while the central forests were unchanged and southern forests up.
Male ruffed grouse drum as part of their mating rituals by beating their wings slowly at first then rapidly to create a deep, thumping sound. The display usually lasts 5-10 seconds, during which the wings can beat approximately 50 times. Surveyors listen for this sound to identify and count male ruffed grouse each spring during the mating season.
Roadside surveys to monitor the number of breeding grouse have been conducted by staff from the DNR, U.S. Forest Service, tribal employees and numerous grouse enthusiasts and volunteers since 1964.
But lower spring drumming surveys don’t necessarily mean hunters will see fewer grouse this fall. Weather conditions during spring nesting, and the early summer survival of grouse chicks, are important for how many young birds make it to fall. Because the majority of birds shot each year are young-of-the-year grouse, warm, dry conditions right now may mean more birds for hunters this fall.
Minnesota’s drumming count results will be out in July.