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2017 Drumming Survey Results

During the spring 2017 wild turkey hunting season, DEC conducted the 11th annual Ruffed Grouse Drumming Survey. This survey asks turkey hunters to record the number of grouse they hear drumming while afield. The primary purpose of the survey is to monitor the number of birds drumming per hour (i.e., the drumming rate). Changes in the drumming rate illustrate trends in the grouse population when viewed over time and will provide insight into statewide distributions for this popular game species as habitats change both locally and on a landscape scale.

The full report for the 2017 Ruffed Grouse Drumming Survey (PDF, 436 KB) is available for printing or download.

We thank all the hunters that participated in the Ruffed Grouse Drumming Survey during the 2017 season.

Results from the 2017 Season

During the 2017 season, 179 hunters participated in the Ruffed Grouse Drumming Survey. Survey participants reported data from over 1,100 hunting trips across the state, from the lower Hudson Valley in the south, to the Adirondacks and St. Lawrence Valley in the north, and the Lake Plains and Allegheny Plateau in far western New York. They spent almost 4,200 hours afield and observed over 700 grouse. Some general findings from the 2017 season include:

  • Hunters participating in the survey averaged about 23 hours afield during the 2017 season. They took about 6 trips afield for the season and spent almost 4 hours afield per trip.
  • Survey participants averaged about 4 grouse observed per hunter for the 2017 season and had to spend 6 hours afield in order to hear one grouse drumming.
  • About two-thirds of all survey effort took place during the first two weeks of May, but the drumming rate (grouse drumming/hour) was highest during the third week of the month.
  • Overall, there was far more effort expended in the southern zone (about 85% of the total), but the drumming rate was higher in the northern zone (0.44 vs. 0.18 grouse drumming/hour).
  • Significantly more effort was expended, and more grouse were observed, on private land than public land; however, public land had a slightly higher drumming rate.
  • Survey effort was distributed across major geographic regions of New York State (25% in southeastern NY, 14% in northern NY, 61% in central and western NY). We observed the highest drumming rate in DEC Region 6 in the St. Lawrence Valley/western Adirondacks (0.72 grouse drumming/hour, respectively) followed by DEC Region 5 in the Eastern Adirondacks (0.27 grouse drumming/hour). The drumming rate was close to the statewide average (0.22 grouse drumming/hour) in DEC regions 4, 7, and 9, and below average in DEC regions 3 and 8 (0.04 and 0.12 grouse drumming/hour, respectively).
  • The drumming rate was highest in the St. Lawrence Valley Ecozone (0.76 grouse drumming/hour), followed by the Adirondacks-Tug Hill Ecozone (0.49 grouse drumming/hour). The drumming rate was close to the statewide average in the Catskills-Delaware Hills, Champlain Valley, and Appalachian Hills & Plateau ecozones, and below average in the Mohawk Valley-Hudson Valley-Taconic Highlands and Lake Plains ecozones.

Comparing 2017 to Previous Seasons

  • Since this survey started in 2007, 745 turkey hunters have taken over 12,700 trips afield and spent over 48,000 hours recording their grouse observations. Over the past 11 years, grouse numbers increased, peaked around 2009, and have declined since. Whether this is a result of some cyclical fluctuation or is related to the influence of habitat and weather on nest and brood success is unknown. A similar pattern has been observed in the flush rate from the Grouse and Woodcock Hunting Log conducted during the fall, providing evidence that changes in the drumming rate reflect changes in abundance over time.
  • From 2016 to 2017 the number of survey participants, survey effort, and number of grouse drumming was similar between years. The drumming rate increased slightly from 2016 to 2017, but the change was not significant.
  • When we look at the ecozone level, the changes in the drumming rate from 2016 to 2017 are minimal. Most ecozones increased or decreased slightly between years, with the exception of the St. Lawrence Valley where a dramatic increase was observed, mostly driven by observations in the East Ontario Plain aggregate. The Lake Plains and Hudson Valley regions are consistently below the statewide average over the past 11 seasons.
  • Annual variation in grouse abundance is likely a result of variation in weather, including spring temperature and rainfall, winter snow conditions, and food availability during the summer and fall (e.g., hard and soft mast, insects). Data from the U.S. Department of Agriculture National Agricultural Statistics Service indicate that May 2016 rainfall was below average in most regions, despite cold, wet weather in many areas during the first week of the month. Similarly, rainfall was below average in most regions in June 2016, with the exception of portions of the St. Lawrence Valley in northern New York. Below average rainfall in May and June can positively impact nest and brood success, but this may have been offset by the cold, wet start to the month of May. This may have resulted in below-average reproductive success in many areas, but mild winter conditions in 2016-17 and good overwinter survival may have buffered the negative effects of poor productivity in some regions.
  • In areas with a lack of the early successional habitats on which this species depends (e.g., Lake Plains, lower Hudson Valley), grouse, their nests, and young are more vulnerable to predation and other limiting factors, thus we tend to observe lower drumming rates in these areas. Over the past 11 years, the Wildlife Management Units with the highest drumming rates are those that have a landscape with a greater proportion of the early successional habitats (e.g., shrubland, young forests) that grouse depend upon than aggregates with below-average drumming rates.

Drumming Survey vs. Grouse Hunting Log

  • At the statewide scale the drumming rate from the spring survey and the flush rate from the Grouse Hunting Log conducted during the fall are correlated (i.e., when we observe an annual change in the drumming rate, we see a similar change in the flush rate). Based on this, we anticipate that the flush rate during the upcoming 2017-18 hunting season will be slightly higher than last fall (0.76 grouse flushed/hour in 2016-17) and below the long-term average flush rate (about 1 bird/hour). Unfortunately, nesting conditions have been relatively wet in May and June, so that's a bad sign for nest and chick success. Poor production this summer could hurt hunter prospects this fall and off-set improvements in grouse numbers.
  • When we attempt to link drumming rates with flush rates at smaller scales, the results are often inconsistent; drumming rates do not consistently predict flush rates at the ecozone or WMU aggregate level. Part of the reason for this may be the unpredictability of the nesting season (i.e., percent of nests that are successful, survival of broods) between the time the drumming survey is conducted in the spring and the time the grouse log is conducted during the fall.