A 3 year study of Maine’s Ruffed Grouse is delivering a lot of interesting and helpful information. At the recent annual meeting of the Maine Woodland Owners (formerly the Small Woodland Owners Association of Maine), Eric Blomberg told us all about their project’s findings to date.
Blomberg is a University of Maine at Orono staffer who leads the grouse research project, working with wildlife biologists at the Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife. They are now 2 ½ years into the 3 year study, using tagged grouse in two areas including off the Stud Mill Road.
Eric said that only 13% of their tagged birds were harvested by hunters in 2015. This year they are focusing on research of predation. And no surprise, winter is tough on these birds. 32% of adult grouse and 47% of juvenile birds died last winter, and according to Blomberg, predation is “almost exclusively” the cause of death.
Grouse are pretty specific in their eating habits, focusing on buds of hardwood trees. So habitat is critically important, with early successional forests (thick brush) best for these birds.
Grouse are also ground nesters, making them particularly vulnerable. They often nest in open areas so they can see predators approaching. A large percentage of females are killed by predators while nesting. In this research project, 30% of the tagged females were killed by predators while nesting. And only ¼ of the first nesters actually hatched chicks. In Maine the re-nesting level is very high – as high as 95%.
Around the end of April, they lay their first eggs, usually around ten, and the chicks hatch around July 1. If the first brood fails, the hens will try again, but with fewer chicks. Grouse are really late in hatching their chicks. By comparison, woodcock chicks are born by the end of April.
Blomberg reported that male grouse are “dead-beat Dads,” playing no role in raising the chicks, which can feed themselves almost immediately after hatching. They also grow rapidly.
The research team tagged 170 birds the first year, but only 80 the second (2016), a good indication that that year’s hunting was going to be sketchy. And it was. But Blomberg said, “This is not a cause for alarm.” Changes like this are typical for grouse, he said.
For example, adult grouse that are alive on October 1 have a 32% chance of being alive the following October 1, while juveniles have only a 16 percent chance.
Blomberg answered questions after he completed his presentation, and reported that they have no research on the impact of turkeys on grouse. I hear from quite a few grouse hunters who think the arrival of turkeys has negatively impacted grouse.
The Maine Woodland Owners is our state’s primary organization serving private landowners, especially small landowners. I’ve been a member for years and really appreciate their work, their presence at the legislature and on every important task force, and the information they provide in their monthly newsletter. You can learn more about the organization at www.swoam.org.