April 27, 2017

Ruffed Grouse in Minnesota

grouse_closeupThe general goal of the Minnesota ruffed grouse project is to improve our ability to accurately assess grouse habitat use by incorporating both climate and habitat factors into models of stand occupancy. We are using data previously collected by Gordy Gullion to develop predictive models of drumming log occupancy based on weather, habitat, and their interactions. We will evaluate the performance of these models with field data that we are currently collecting. In addition, we will attempt to improve the predictability of models using multi-scale habitat variables. Many state agencies rely heavily on drumming surveys to assess population trends and habitat use. The only problem with drumming techniques is that if a surveyor does not detect/hear a drummer in a forest stand, it is uncertain whether the surveyor simply did not hear the bird or the stand is actually not occupied. Thus, we will assess the performance of drumming surveys and provide guidelines for designing future surveys.

Check out some grouse video collected on the Cloquet Study Area!


Grand Rapids 10-08 100




In spring 2006, Guthrie Zimmerman successfully defended his dissertation and graduated, and Lorelle Berkeley took over the grouse project. As expected, the grouse population began increasing this year after a few years of decline. The field crew found over 50 activity centers this season at Cloquet.



Spring 2007 marked the 6th year of the long term grouse project, and the 2nd year of my field research.  This was the first year monitoring male grouse on their drumming structures with video systems.  We monitored a total of 6 males all season with VCR set-ups powered by marine deep cycle batteries.  One of our biggest challenges was bear-proofing the systems!  The Cloquet grouse population was up about 30%, similar to the increase observed by the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources.  We found a total of 63 activity centers during the season.



We had a large grouse crew this year!  In spring 2008, I continued my grouse surveys at Cloquet for a 3rd season and did some additional pilot surveys at nearby sites including the Sawyer Wildlife Management Area and parts of the Carlton County Memorial Forest.  The surveys at Cloquet showed us that the grouse numbers are pretty similar to last year and did not increase very much, even though they are on the upswing of their population cycle.  We found 65 activity centers versus the 63 activity centers we found in 2007.  I monitored 9 male grouse at their drumming logs using remote video systems for a total of 15 males that have been monitored since 2007.


This year we had two grouse field crews. The original crew on the Cloquet study site headed by Lorelle Berkely and a new crew in northern Minnesota headed by Meadow Kouffeld. The northern Minnesota ruffed grouse project is located within a remote portion of the Laurentian Mixed Forest Province and Big Bog Region of Minnesota. General boundaries include Baudette and Warroad MN to the north and the expanse of Red Lake to the south. The study area is divided into two different sites, Aspen and Conifer, encompassing 900+ square miles. Although there is not much for topographical variation within the study area, it is unique and beautiful for many reasons. Our base camp is located at Norris Camp, a historical CCC camp where we enjoy facilities provided and maintained by the Minnesota DNR.


Cloquet Crew

The 2009 field season was the 4th and final season collecting data for my dissertation research (though not the final year of the ruffed grouse project) on the effects of male behavior and female preference on habitat selection of male ruffed grouse.  The ruffed grouse population at CFC nearly doubled this season, with 111 active males found during our surveys. We monitored 8 male grouse by video at their drumming logs this year, for a total of 23 males monitored since the inception of the project in 2007. Results will be forthcoming, as we are still viewing all of the video footage we have collected! However, we have had some fun findings so far this year, including video footage of a male ruffed grouse killed at his log by a northern goshawk, as well as footage of a male and female ruffed grouse mating.

grouse crew 09

Northern Minnesota Crew

We began the field season with a crew of six; three from Minnesota, one from Pennsylvania, one from Louisiana and myself (California). We arrived at Norris Camp the last week of March for transect set up and started drumming surveys the first week of April 2009. Birds began drumming the second week of the season and did not stop until well in to vegetation surveys. For a total of eight weeks we conducted drumming surveys on 30 transects (each transect was surveyed each week) were in the field a half hour before sunrise, often waking several hours before for travel time and preparation. Minnesota did not disappoint those less experienced! We emerged from a heavy snow year, frigid temperatures, and often knee deep water only to be joined by swarms of maddening mosquitoes, persistent gnats, and hoards of deer and horse flies. However, despite these unpleasant factors there was much to be enjoyed and discovered, plus plenty of character to be built. Above all, the animal and plant diversity was spectacular! Experiencing thaw, leaf out and the transition in to summer on a day by day basis in this northern climate is one the most memorable aspects of the 2009 field season.



Cloquet Crew

Lorelle finished collecting her video data in 2009, but the long-term ruffed grouse population study continues!  The 2010 field season was the 9th season (out of what we hope will be at least 10 seasons) collecting population data using a robust sampling design, These data allow us to look at population dynamics as the population increases and decreases each year, and to evaluate the effects of habitat and other environmental variables on the population.  This is important because the optimal habitat composition that is needed by breeding males is still unclear.  Some males use habitat that seems to be “suboptimal”, even during years when there is low competition for sites.  The continuation of our long-term data set will allow us to better evaluate what constitutes optimal habitat for male ruffed grouse, and to predict what areas males will occupy as the habitat changes.

In 2010, Daniel Stangle led our hard-working field crew, which included Stephanie Galla and Johnathan O’Connor.  They found that the ruffed grouse population at Cloquet Forestry Center increased yet again, going from 111 actively drumming males in 2009 to 121 males in 2010!  This is the largest number of drumming males that we have observed on the study area since the inception of our research in 2001.

2010 grouse crew

Northern Minnesota Crew

Once again a crew of six participated in the Northern Minnesota grouse project; three from Minnesota, one from Wisconsin, one from Illinois and myself (California). Two crew members arrived early to shuttle vehicles and equipment to the study area from the campus as well as set up transects. After the rest of the crew showed up, we completed transect set up and started drumming surveys the first week of April 2010. Birds were already drumming the first week of the season, however in my personal opinion they did not seem to drum as consistently throughout the season as they did in 2009. For a total of eight weeks we conducted drumming surveys on 30 transects (each transect was surveyed each week). A typical day in the field required that we were in the field a half hour before sunrise, often waking several hours before for travel time and preparation. The roads were in better shape this year and all in all the conditions were drier and warmer than in 2009. In hopes of giving the crew a honest idea of what they would encounter during their time on the project (rather than let them find out at 3 am in the dark) I marched them out the wettest and longest one-way access transect, only to find it dry (later in the season this transect flooded). Although the thaw began earlier in 2010 and many of the transects were not as flooded (in the beginning) the mosquitoes, gnats, deer and horse flies made their presence known. This year the entire crew was retained through the month of June to complete vegetation surveys. The crew enjoyed many unique encounters with wildlife beyond ruffed grouse and an abundant morel mushroom season. Experiences gained in the 2009 season paid off in 2010 as the field season went smoothly with minimal logistical complications and increased efficiency. All in all it was an enjoyable season and as all field seasons are a character building experience our time in the Big Bog was no different!