Ruffed Grouse Drumming Sites

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Ruffed Grouse Drumming Sites

November 16, 2016

Allison M. Bernhisel discusses her efforts locating male Ruffed Grouse and their primary drumming structures at MPG North and MPG Ranch.

Earlier this summer, I searched for male Ruffed Grouse and drumming sites at MPG Ranch and MPG North. My objectives were to learn how many male grouse have established territories and what habitats they prefer. Here, a male at MPG North begins his mating display on his chosen drumming site—a decrepit log.

 We can use data from this study to monitor male grouse numbers over time. We could expand these methods to examine populations, habitat use, and recruitment in the future. Cameras also provide data on grouse. For now, recruitment at MPG North in 2016 includes at least the four robust grouse chicks shown above.

Most studies on Ruffed Grouse in the northern extent of their range associate high population densities with young aspen stands (above, Gullion and Marshall 1968, Svoboda and Gullion 1972, Rusch et al. 2000).

I used Ruffed Grouse detections from point-count data (shown on map above) to narrow down probable drumming sites at MPG Ranch. At MPG North, I used camera trap data to identify survey areas.

I surveyed along transects for male Ruffed Grouse and their primary drumming sites from April 3 to June 20, 2016. I walked along shrubby draws and creeks like Tongue Creek (top photo) and North Woodchuck Creek (bottom photo). I conducted surveys once per week at both MPG Ranch and MPG North throughout the study period for a total of 22 days.

 Searching for Ruffed Grouse: The Stalk I began searching for grouse early in the morning, quietly stalking birds along each transect. This silent pace helped me locate the low-frequency drum of the Ruffed Grouse.

Once I could hear the sound of a male’s drum—the rapid beating of his wings against the air—I walked towards it. I would only walk towards the drumming during its progression, freezing in place when it stopped to reduce the presence of my own sound. Hints of recent grouse sign (a tail feather pictured above and scat below) indicate precise locations of grouse activity near drumming sites.

This stop-and-go stalking continued until I saw the bird on his drumming site. Once discovered, most males, like the one pictured above, stared at me for a bit before scuttling away into protective brush.

I located nine Ruffed Grouse drumming sites (green dots) at MPG Ranch. I found five of the nine drumming sites along Woodchuck Creek. My findings coincide with the numerous point count detections there from 2010 to 2015 (blue dots). I found two males within two hundred feet of each other in Tongue Creek. Despite high numbers of point count detections along Davis Creek, North Draw, and the Bitterroot Floodplain, I found fewer males than expected.

I found most drumming sites at MPG Ranch along North Woodchuck and Tongue Creeks. These areas are thick with aspen and cottonwood trees and water is plentiful. Surrounding areas are far more open and dry.

Where grouse live in conifer stands devoid of aspen, various shrubs (e.g. snowberry, rocky mountain maple, ninebark, birch (leaf pictured)) and water are abundant. Perhaps access to water is more of a limiting resource than aspen when other deciduous shrubs are available in conifer stands.

Further study is needed to determine if aspen, conifer, or water limits Ruffed Grouse distribution at MPG. The results from these types of studies would be helpful in a restoration framework, as large-scale habitat change may influence small-scale habitat selection.