Spring surveys show mixed results for ruffed grouse, pheasant and waterfowl in Wisconsin | News, Sports, Jobs

Wildlife biologists with the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources reported a statewide decrease of 5% in ruffed grouse drumming activity this spring. (Photo by Ryan Brady)

MADISON, Wis. – The Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources says annual spring surveys of Wisconsin ruffed grouse and pheasant showed below-average counts.

On the other hand, the results of the spring waterfowl reproduction inventory indicate good numbers and excellent habitat conditions for migratory birds.

DNR wildlife biologists reported a 5% statewide decrease in ruffed grouse drumming activity as of 2021.

“These results are not surprising. The ruffed grouse generally follows a 10-year population cycle,” said MNR wildlife survey specialist Brian Dhuey. “Although we don’t have data for 2020 due to COVID-19 restrictions, we do know that cycles generally peak in years ending in 9, 0 or 1. We are likely to see this abundance begin to decline in the years to come as we enter the “downward phase” of the cycle.”

Drumming is a practice performed by male ruffed grouse, usually during mating season. During the ritual, the males first flap their wings slowly and then faster to create a deep, dull sound. The display usually lasts 5-10 seconds, during which the wings can flap about 50 times. Investigators listen to this sound to identify and count male ruffed grouse each spring during mating season.

The department also reported a slight increase in pheasant sightings from 2021 in its annual Spring Ring-necked Pheasant Survey. However, the number remained below the most recent five-year average. MNR wildlife managers use a measure known as the abundance index to assess the state’s wild pheasant population each year.

This assessment is a road count of singing males that takes into account the number of breeding males in the area and indicates the abundance of pheasants entering the breeding and nesting season. The abundance index was highest in the northwestern part of the state, but all three areas saw an increase in their abundance index in 2022.

The annual MNR breeding waterfowl survey also took place this spring. The survey showed stable to increasing numbers for two of the state’s top breeding waterfowl: mallards and blue-winged teals. The third major species, wood ducks, showed a slight decline. The survey team also reported above average wetland conditions.

The survey results point to a promising season this fall for Wisconsin waterfowl hunters. Investigators estimate the state’s breeding duck population at 591,762 birds, an increase of 6% from the 2021 estimate and 34% from the long-term average.

Canada geese numbers are also up from 2021, consistent with the stable to increasing population observed over the past 10 to 15 years.

Find these and other wildlife survey reports on the DNR Wildlife Reports webpage at https://dnr.wisconsin.gov/topic/WildlifeHabitat/reports.html.

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