Catching Up After A Day Off: Monday Report Shows Increase In Minnesota Ruffed Grouse Spring Drumming Counts

A male ruffed grouse displays on its drumming log in early May in Beltrami Island State Forest. Minnesota spring drumming counts are up 57 percent statewide from last year. (Brad Dokken photo)

Good news isn’t easy to come by, it seems, these days, but there was good news Monday when the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources released the results of its spring drumming count survey.

I was off Monday so I’m behind the 8-ball in reporting the results, but statewide drumming counts were up 57 percent from last year, the DNR said. The DNR estimates ruffed grouse numbers by listening for the drumming sound male birds make by rapidly beating their wings in an effort to attract a mate.

The number offers an indication of spring breeding populations, but fall hunting success also hinges on nesting success and chick survival.

No doubt, though, Monday’s report is good news.

“The grouse population is nearing its 10-year peak,” Charlotte Roy, DNR grouse project leader, said in a news release. “Grouse populations tend to rise and fall on a decade-long cycle, and counts this year are typical of what we expect as the population nears the peak.”

This year, DNR staff and cooperators from 15 organizations surveyed 122 routes across the state. The statewide average was 2.1 drums per stop, up from 0.9 in 2013, 1.1 in 2014 and 2015 and 1.3 last year.

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 an increase from 2015 to 2016. In the northeast survey region, which is the core of Minnesota’s grouse range, counts were 2.5 drums per stop; in the northwest there were 1.6 drums per stop; in the central hardwoods, 0.9 drums per stop; and in the southeast, 0.8 drums per stop.  Statewide, drums per stop were as high as during the last peak in drumming in 2009, but have not yet reached previous peak levels in all regions.

Ted Dick, forest game bird coordinator for the DNR, said the first two weeks in June are critical for grouse chicks. Cold, wet weather will have a negative impact on survival, and while parts of the state encountered wet conditions in June, early June temperatures statewide were above average.

“I think wet now produces good plant growth and lots of bugs,” Dick said. “We’ve been seeing lots of last year’s birds in the woods this spring. Spring was early, early June temps statewide were above average and overwinter survival was good.”

In related grouse news, the DNR on Monday also said Minnesota sharp-tailed grouse numbers were similar to last year. The DNR counts the prairie grouse by looking for male birds on their leks, or spring 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.  This year’s statewide average of 9.7 sharp-tailed grouse per lek was similar to the long-term average since 1980. The 2009 average of 13.6 was as high as during any year since 1980. During the last 25 years, the sharp-tailed grouse index has been as low as seven birds counted per dancing ground.

The DNR’s 2017 grouse survey report and grouse hunting information can be found at