MADISON – Preliminary results from spring and summer surveys for ruffed grouse, pheasant and wild turkey broods show production fell in 2016, compared to levels seen in 2015, according to state wildlife officials.
“Brood production surveys for these species were conducted by DNR employees during the months of June, July and August as they went about their normal work duties,” said Brian Dhuey, Department of Natural Resources wildlife survey coordinator. “These data are still preliminary and may change, but they can be used as an index to production and help in the forecast of fall hunting prospects.”
All survey results are preliminary and subject to change upon the collection of further data and additional analysis.
Mild winter temperatures and snowfall left game birds in good condition entering the 2016 breeding season. In addition, an earlier than normal spring green up led to good game bird breeding and nesting conditions. However, above average precipitation from June until August 2016 led to losses during the brood rearing season for Wisconsin game bird populations – this may have led to the decrease in brood production for pheasants, ruffed grouse and wild turkeys.
Brood rearing conditions less than favorable
“Most of the winter was below normal for snowfall and above for temperature, the lack of heavy snow cover meant there was little snow to melt and may have led to an early spring green up, said Dhuey. “Timing of spring green up can effect game bird survival and physical condition going into the breeding and nesting season and in turn effect brood survival.”
Brood rearing conditions in Wisconsin in 2016 were above average for temperature, with much of Wisconsin experiencing temperatures about one to two degrees above average for June through August. Precipitation levels were above normal, with several severe and large events. While these events were not followed by cold weather, the overall severity of the precipitation may have led to brood losses in those areas.
Early June weather is the most critical for turkey, pheasant and grouse broods, since this is when recently-hatched chicks are most susceptible to hypothermia if they become wet. Most of the summer, while warm, was also wet and may have led to less than ideal conditions for brood rearing and survival.
Statewide, ruffed grouse broods seen per observer hour were down 17 percent compared to 2015 and 43 percent below the long term mean. Ruffed Grouse production was down in two of the three regions that compose the primary range: central (11.1 percent decrease), northern (14.2 percent decrease), and southwestern (43.3 percent increase). Ruffed grouse brood size fell from 4.2 young per brood in 2015 to 4 in 2016.
“Breeding grouse numbers were up slightly this spring, while brood production in the primary ruffed grouse range showed a decrease,” said Dhuey. “Several severe rain events likely caused declines in brood survival in the areas they occurred — while there were losses in these areas, these events were not wide spread and it is likely that brood production in Wisconsin is patchy, with areas of good and poor brood production and survival. While some areas of the primary ruffed grouse range will be better than others, it appears that ruffed grouse numbers will be similar or slightly worse than last year.”
Ruffed grouse are currently in a cyclic low population cycle. While an increase in breeding grouse is a positive sign, it will likely be a few years until Wisconsin returns to the birds’ cyclic high.
Ruffed Grouse season opens in the primary portion of their range, Zone A, Sept. 17. For more information regarding ruffed grouse management in Wisconsin, search the DNR website, dnr.wi.gov, keywords “ruffed grouse.”
The number of pheasant broods seen per observer-hour was down 46 percent in 2016 compared to last year. Pheasant production was down in both the primary (44 percent decrease) and secondary (33 percent decrease) pheasant range, compared to 2015 levels. Pheasant brood size saw an increase in 2016, with an average of 4.3 young per brood in 2016 (compared to 4 in 2015).
“While pheasant breeding numbers have rebounded a bit from a few harsh winters in 2013 and 2014, overall breeding numbers have been declining for several years and overall population numbers are down from the highs seen in the 1990s,” said Dhuey. “While brood rearing conditions may have impacted pheasants in 2016, overall pheasant numbers are likely impacted by declining grassland habitat due to losses in Conservation Reserve Program grassland acres throughout the pheasant range.”
Pheasant season opens statewide Oct. 15 at 9 a.m. For more information regarding pheasant management in Wisconsin, search keyword “pheasant.”
Wild turkeys experienced a decline in brood production in 2016, with a 27 percent decrease in the number of broods seen per observer-hour compared to 2015. Overall, the size of broods saw in increase.
Four out of the five turkey regions showed decreases in observation rates from 2015 levels, with the largest changes occurring in the southeast (53.4 percent decrease), south central (48.8 percent decrease), western (31.5 percent decrease), and northern (24.9 percent decrease) regions, while the northeast region saw a 10.4 percent increase.
The statewide observation rate was 35 percent below the long-term mean, while the average brood size seen in 2016 was 4.4 young per brood (up slightly from 4.3 young per brood seen in 2015). “Preliminary data show that weather conditions did effect wild turkey brood rearing in 2016, causing a decrease in brood production this summer,” said Dhuey.
The fall turkey season opens statewide in all zones Sept. 17. Fall turkey permits have been issued via US mail, and leftover tags are currently available. For more information regarding wild turkey management in Wisconsin, search for keywords “wild turkey management.”