Sharp-tailed grouse numbers in North Dakota are up 9% from last year based on results from spring dancing ground surveys, the Game and Fish Department said Monday, July 15, in reporting results from its annual sharptail, ruffed grouse and sage grouse assessments.

Statewide, Game and Fish personnel observed 2,267 sharptails on spring dancing grounds this year compared with 2,088 in 2018. Surveys sample populations by counting the number of male grouse observed on their leks, or dancing grounds.

Male grouse recorded per square mile increased from 2 to 2.2. Nearly 800 square miles were covered.

“Sharptails are beginning to rebound after the 2017 drought,” said Jesse Kolar, upland game management supervisor for Game and Fish in Dickinson, N.D. “Historically, grouse populations have rebounded within three to five years after reaching low points in the population cycle.”

The results were less favorable for sage grouse and ruffed grouse.

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Surveyors tallied 29 male sage grouse on eight leks this spring, a 7% increase over the 27 males counted on five leks in 2018. Despite the modest increase, the number of male sage grouse observed remains far below the population objective of 250 males, Kolar said.

North Dakota does not offer a hunting season on sage grouse because of the low population.

Game and Fish plans to continue translocating sage grouse to North Dakota through next year, Kolar said, and will determine a path forward after observing the outcomes from the two remaining translocation seasons.

“It is unlikely we will reopen the sage grouse hunting season in the foreseeable future,” he said.

Ruffed grouse down

Spring drumming counts for ruffed grouse in the state’s range for the forest species were down 25% from 2018, the department said. The number of drums heard per stop was 0.53, down from 0.71.

Biologists estimate ruffed grouse numbers by listening for the drumming sound male ruffed grouse make by rapidly beating their wings in an effort to attract a mate.

“The majority of the trend was due to declines in the Turtle Mountains, which was down 41%,” Kolar said. “The number of drums heard per stop in the Pembina Hills this year was nearly four times higher than in 2018.”

The spring grouse surveys serve as relative indices of breeding populations and are largely representative of production and recruitment from the previous year. For sharptails, the results can be used in combination with reproduction data – brood surveys are completed in late summer – to predict fall populations.