Latest Issue

Rough Times for the Ruffed Grouse

With spring underway, I should be writing about gobbling turkeys instead of ruffed grouse, but the declining grouse numbers have been getting a lot of attention lately. I’ll admit that I am not a real avid grouse hunter, but in years past I would occasionally head out to the nearby woodlots in search of that sudden burst of thundering wing beats. If I could get my wits about me in time, I would sometimes drop the fast disappearing streak, but more often than not I failed to hit the target. Most of the time when I was able to bag a grouse it was while I was in pursuit of some other small game animal.

Even when hunting big game I would often get a good shot of adrenalin when a grouse flushed when I least expected it, but unfortunately, even those unexpected flushes seem to be occurring less and less in recent years. The decrease in grouse sightings has not gone unnoticed, and the Pennsylvania Game Commission has been taking a much closer look at what’s happening to the grouse population here in Pennsylvania.

From the information that I have been able to gather from recent research and a number of written articles, there seem to be two major causes for our grouse decline — loss of required habitat and disease. So what do grouse require when it comes to habitat? Actually grouse require several different types of habitat including young forests, forest openings with downed trees and mature forests. Forest openings with heavy brush and young saplings are good brood habitat while dense saplings are used for drumming and courtship. Mature forests provide winter cover as well as food like nuts, buds, and fruit. Unfortunately for grouse — and a number of other animal and bird species — Pennsylvania has had a huge loss of young forests. Much of Pennsylvania’s forests average about 100 years old with only about eight percent of our forests being considered young forests.

If habitat loss was not enough we must also now contend with disease; more specifically West Nile virus. It showed up in this country in 1999 and is now in Pennsylvania. Humans and animals including the ruffed grouse are susceptible. West Nile virus, of course, is carried by mosquitoes; the scientific name — Culex restuans is the mosquito that prefers to target birds. Other birds like crows and jays have also suffered high mortality rates from West Nile virus.

To further compound the problem, we have had heavy rains and frequent flooding or high water leading to a big increase in potential breeding ground for mosquitoes. Those of us who have campers down along the Susquehanna River were keenly aware of the increased mosquito problem; it was so bad many of us pulled our campers out early. To make matters worse, our greatly depleted bat population due to white-nose syndrome has allowed for a greater infestation of mosquitoes. Wow, talk about the “perfect storm.”

In the meantime, the commission will continue to focus on habitat improvement to help offset the added strain from West Nile virus. I’ll try to keep you posted as new information becomes available.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked with *