Minnesota’s ruffed grouse spring drumming counts were similar statewide this year to last year.

DNR biologists have monitored ruffed grouse populations for the past 70 years and this year, DNR staff and cooperators from 14 organizations surveyed 131 established routes across the state’s forested region.

Each year on the routes, surveyors count the number of grouse drums they hear. Drumming is the low sound male grouse make as they beat their wings rapidly and in increasing frequency to signal the location of their territory and attract females ready to begin nesting.

Drumming counts are an indicator of the ruffed grouse breeding population. Grouse populations tend to rise and fall on a 10-year cycle that can vary from 8 to 11 years, and Minnesota’s most recent population peak was in 2017.

2019 survey results

The 2019 survey results for ruffed grouse were 1.5 drums per stop statewide. The averages during 2013, 2014, 2015, 2016, 2017, and 2018 were 0.9, 1.1, 1.1, 1.3, 2.1, and 1.5, 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.

Results this year follow a decrease from 2017 to 2018. In the northeast survey region, which is the core of Minnesota’s grouse range, counts were 1.6 drums per stop; in the northwest there were 2.1 drums per stop; in the central hardwoods, 0.8 drums per stop; and in the southeast, 0.7 drums per stop.

Check the DNR’s grouse hunting webpage for the 2019 grouse survey report and grouse hunting information.

What the count means

Drumming counts are an indicator of the ruffed grouse breeding population, but the counts can’t reliably be used to predict how many birds hunters will see in the upcoming fall. The number of birds actually present for hunters depends upon nesting success and chick survival during the spring and summer.

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. Conversely, when production of young is high, hunters may see more birds in the fall.

Sharp-tailed grouse

To count sharp-tailed grouse, observers look for males displaying on traditional mating areas, which are called leks, or dancing grounds.

Comparisons of the same leks counted in both years indicate that counts per lek were similar to last year in both survey regions and statewide. Declines of 23 percent in the east-central region were not significant, likely because fewer leks were surveyed in that region and small sample size can limit the ability to detect differences.

This year’s statewide average of 10.2 sharp-tailed grouse per lek was similar to the long-term average since 1980. During the last 25 years, the sharp-tailed grouse index has been as low as seven birds counted per dancing ground.

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