If it was a population peak, it was short-lived.
Spring ruffed grouse drumming counts conducted by the Minnesota DNR show a 29-percent falloff from a year ago — bad news because the relatively high drumming counts of 2017 didn't seem to manifest themselves in bird numbers last fall.
Bad news also because last year was believed to be the most recent cyclical population peak of the state's ruffed grouse.
“Surveys indicate the peak occurred last year,” Charlotte Roy, DNR grouse project leader, said in an agency news release Monday. “Grouse populations tend to rise and fall on a decade-long cycle and counts this year are pointing to the peak lasting only one year this cycle. This has occurred before, but it’s always nice when the cycle stays high a little longer.”
Drumming counts indicate the size of the ruffed grouse breeding population. But the population payoff is seen in the fall — or isn't — in the size of hunters' bags. This determines, generally, the success of nesting and chick survival.
“If production of young birds is low during the summer months, hunters may see fewer birds than expected based on counts of drumming males in the spring,” Roy said. “Conversely, when production of young is high, hunters may see more birds in the fall.”
The DNR has monitored ruffed grouse populations for 69 years. Statewide this year, the survey showed an average of 1.5 drums per stop. The averages during 2013, 2014, 2015, 2016 and 2017 were 0.9, 1.1, 1.1, 1.3 and 2.1 respectively. Counts vary from about 0.6 drums per stop during years of low grouse abundance to about 2.0 during years of high abundance.
In the northeast survey region, which is the core of Minnesota’s grouse range, counts were 1.7 drums per stop; in the northwest there were 1.0 drums per stop; in the central hardwoods, 0.9 drums per stop; and in the southeast, 0.9 drums per stop.