grouse population still falling

Minnesota's 100,000 ruffed grouse hunters got predicable news last week: Grouse spring drumming counts were down across most of the state as the bird's population continues to decline in its 10-year boom-to-bust cycle.

"I think we're approaching bottom, and in the next few years I would expect a rebound,'' said Charlotte Roy, DNR grouse biologist.

Drumming counts, an indicator of the grouse-breeding population, are conducted at specific routes where observers stop and count the number of birds they hear. This year, the state average was 0.9 drums per stop. That's less than half what it was in 2009, when the population last peaked.

While the drumming counts were down, nesting success or failure this spring will greatly impact hunter success this fall. Roy said the drumming peak, which usually coincides with peak nesting, was later than usual, meaning chicks might have hatched after the spring's wet and cold weather. That would bode well for their survival.

"We're hoping that was the case, but we'll have to see what happens [this fall],'' Roy said.