Expansion of Ruffed Grouse Range in Nevada
By: Steve Kemp, NDOW Wildlife Educator, Eastern Region
In an ongoing effort to expand the ruffed grouse range and increase hunter opportunity, the Nevada Department of Wildlife (NDOW), has implemented a plan to capture and relocate this medium sized forest grouse into many portions of central and northern Nevada.
Before 1963, Nevadans had no ruffed grouse population to call their own. The first translocation of ruffed grouse happened that year when 13 grouse, captured in Idaho, were released in the Ruby Mountains. Nevada’s ruffed grouse population has been expanding ever since.
Listen Below: Ruffed Grouse Drumming
Now for a little history lesson, after the original translocation in 1963 of grouse, NDOW continued translocating grouse to other parts of Nevada in the early and late 1980′s. After conducting extensive ground work and surveys finding suitable habitat, NDOW released grouse into the Bull Run Range, East Humboldt Range, Santa Rosa Range and Merritt Mountain.
The source populations for these birds came from Idaho, Minnesota and from earlier successfully established populations in the Ruby Mountains.
NDOW biologist, Matt Jeffress says,
“It is amazing how well birds have distributed themselves across all available habitat throughout the greater Merritt Mountain area and east into the Jarbidge.”
Building on Previous Success
Thanks to the success of these previous releases, in 2009 NDOW was able to relocate 26 grouse from the Bull Run Range to the northern end of the Toiyabe Range in central Nevada. Then in 2011, 17 more birds were captured from the Bull Run Range and this time released in the North Tuscarora Range in Elko County. In 2012, 121 grouse were captured on Merritt Mountain and 45 were released in the Pine Forrest Range in Humboldt County, 50 in the North Tuscarora Range, and 26 in the Toiyabe Range.
Throughout this journey, NDOW staff has been refining their capture, transportation, and release methods thanks to the many employees and volunteers that assisted with this highly productive endeavor.
How the Process Works
The trapping process begins with finding habitat that has a stable population of grouse. Teams then setup capture pods and trap lines that will maneuver any grouse in the area along the trap line and into the capture pods. The pods are set with a Goldilocks entry; not to small, not to big, but just right. When set, the grouse are able to enter the pod but are unable to find their way out.
The pods are covered with vegetation to provide shade for the captured birds and the traps are checked twice a day. Captured grouse are removed from the pods, receive leg bands, assessed, and placed into small or medium sized dog kennels that have been padded with foam and native vegetation. Watermelon is then added as a source of food and water. The birds are then transported in an air conditioned truck to the release site.
Increasing Genetic Diversity
Beginning the last week in August of 2015 and continuing through the first week in September, NDOW Biologist, Matt Jeffress organized a team that was comprised of members from multiple NDOW divisions as well as five volunteers. Together they captured and banded 40 ruffed grouse from the Merritt Mountain area in Northern Elko County. The grouse were released in the southern Toiyabe Range, augmenting the population of grouse from the 2012 release. Biologists are expecting these two populations to mix, increasing the genetic diversity in the range.
After assessing ruffed grouse habitat this summer in the South Tuscarora Range, Jeffress is expecting to be able to augment grouse there in the next couple of years, pending permits from the BLM. The Western Region also has plans to augment the Pine Forest Range population over the next couple of years.
Spotting Ruffed Grouse in the Wild
Ruffed grouse are difficult to spot due to their tendency to hold strong to thick cover, relying on their natural camouflage and slow movements to keep them inconspicuous. Grouse are mostly silent but they do communicate with some distinctive calls and sounds. Most memorable is the male’s drumming sound; it is produced from rapid wing beats in order to attract mates and establish their territory. The drumming is a remarkable sound not easily forgotten that starts out slow and speeds up similar to an engine trying to start.
For those wishing to get a glimpse of these cryptic birds, whether for hunting or viewing, the key is knowing where to look.
According to Jeffress, “The ideal ruffed grouse habitat consists of thick, young or mix-aged aspen groves with substantial understory vegetation.”
Their primary foods consist of fruits and berries of shrubs and woody plants, including: rose hip, elderberry, snowberry, golden currant, leaves, and aspen buds. Chicks from two to four weeks old depend heavily on insects and invertebrates due to their high protein value.
So whether you are a hiker, an avid bird watcher, or a hunter looking for one of the tastiest birds in Nevada, NDOW biologists are creating more opportunity and a great excuse to get out an enjoy the wildlife and the great outdoors.