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2011 Drumming Survey Results

During the spring 2011 wild turkey hunting season, DEC conducted the fifth 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. Changes in the drumming rate should illustrate trends in the grouse population when viewed over a long period of time and will provide insight into statewide distributions for this popular game species as habitats change both locally and on a landscape scale.

You can view, print, or download the complete 2011 Ruffed Grouse Drumming Survey Report (PDF) (453 kB).

We thank all the hunters that participated in the Ruffed Grouse Drumming Survey during the 2011 season.

Results from the 2011 Season

During the 2011 season, 153 hunters participated in the Ruffed Grouse Drumming Survey. Survey participants reported data from over 1,000 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 3,700 hours afield and observed almost 800 grouse (about 0.25 birds/hour). Some general findings from the 2011 season include:

  • Hunters participating in the survey averaged about 24 hours afield during the 2011 season. They took about 7 trips afield for the season and spent almost 4 hours afield per trip.
  • Survey participants averaged about 5 grouse observed per hunter for the 2011 season and had to spend almost 5 hours afield in order to observe one grouse drumming.
  • Over 40% of hunting effort (and thus, survey effort) took place during the first week of the season (May 1-7); however, the drumming rate (grouse drumming/hour) was relatively consistent (0.27 birds/hour) for the first two weeks of May.
  • Overall, there was far more effort expended in the southern grouse season zone (about 83% of the total), but the drumming rate was higher in the northern season zone (0.35 vs. 0.22 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. About 41% of the effort took place in western New York (20% DEC Region 8, 21% DEC Region 9), about 26% in central New York (DEC Region 7), about 20% in the southeastern portion of the State (9% DEC Regions 3, 12% DEC Region 4), and 13% in northern New York (5% in DEC Region 5 and 8% in Region 6). We observed the highest drumming rate in DEC Region 6 (0.54 grouse drumming/hour), but Regions 5 and 7 were also above the annual statewide average of 0.25 grouse drumming/hour.
  • The drumming rate was highest in the Adirondacks-Tug Hill Ecozone (0.79 grouse drumming/hour), followed by the St. Lawrence Valley Ecozone (0.57 grouse drumming/hour). The Appalachian Hills & Plateau (0.26 grouse drumming/hour) was close to the statewide average (0.25 grouse drumming/hour), and the remaining ecozones were below the statewide average.

Comparing 2011 to Previous Seasons

  • For the second straight year the number of trips and hours afield declined. The drumming rate in 2011 was higher than the previous season (0.25 vs. 0.23 grouse drumming/hour), but this was not a statistically significant difference. The amount of time spent afield to hear one grouse drumming decreased from just over 5 hours to about 4.7 hours.
  • By almost every measure - number of grouse drumming, grouse observed/participant, grouse observed/trip, drumming rate (grouse drumming/hour) - the number of grouse drumming during 2011 was similar to 2010.
  • Only three ecozones saw significant changes in drumming rates from 2010 to 2011. The drumming rate in the Adirondacks-Tug-Hill and Catskills-Delaware Hills ecozones increase by 27% and 54%, respectively; the drumming rate in the Champlain Valley declined over 70% from 2010 to 2011.
  • Annual variation in grouse abundance is likely a result of variation in weather, including spring temperature and rainfall and winter snow conditions, and food availability during the summer and fall (e.g., hard and soft mast, insects). During spring and summer 2010 rainfall totals were close to average despite a lot of variation in rainfall amounts between May and June. This likely resulted in an improvement in nesting and brood rearing conditions from 2009. During winter 2011 snowfall totals were well above average in many regions, but statewide temperatures were close to long-term averages, so grouse likely fared relatively well coming into this spring.
  • In areas with a lack of the early successional habitats on which this species depends, 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.

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 2011-12 hunting season should be similar to or slightly higher than last fall (0.9 grouse flushed/hour).
  • 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. It is important to note that this is based on only four years worth of data and the results of the drumming survey and grouse hunting log may be correlated at the ecozone or WMU aggregate level over the long term.