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Missouri brings in ruffed grouse from Wisconsin to boost local population

A ruffed grouse
Missouri Department of Conservation
Ruffed grouse, a native bird species in Missouri, have been declining largely due to aging forests.

For the next three years, Missouri conservation officials are bringing 300 ruffed grouse into the state from Wisconsin in hopes of raising the native bird’s population.

The ruffed grouse is a stout-bodied, medium-sized bird with white, grey or brown feathers and mostly spends its time on the ground. In Missouri, the ruffed grouse lives mainly in the River Hills region, located in an east-central part of the state that covers Callaway, Montgomery and Warren counties. 

While the ruffed grouse have fairly healthy populations in the northern parts of the United States, its Missouri population has declined in recent years. In 2011, the state suspended the hunting season for the bird, in place since the 1980s.

The species’ local population has likely declined because the birds depend on young forests, that are 5 to 15 years old, state wildlife biologist Jason Isabelle said. Since fewer trees have been harvested in Missouri in recent years, the state’s forests are getting older, he added.

“They really need that young, very thick cover essentially to provide them with protection from predators,” Isabelle said. “With numbers being so low, we wanted to pursue a translocation effort like the one we have ongoing right now to make sure that the bird remains a permanent fixture on the landscape.”

A Missouri conservationist releases a box containing a ruffed grouse into the wild.
Credit Missouri Department of Natural Resources
Gus Raeker, a forestry district supervisor at the Missouri Department of Conservation, releases a ruffed grouse in east-central Missouri.

The Missouri Department of Conservation has been conducting timber harvests in the River Hills region to create more ideal habitat for the birds. Ruffed grouse help manage insect populations and are a source of food for foxes, birds of prey and bobcats. They are also known for a distinctive mating display, in which males will hop onto a fallen log and beat their wings against their chests, making a drumming noise to attract females.

The ruffed grouse were transported from Wisconsin to Missouri between mid-August and mid-September. Missouri officials had previously helped the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources raise Wisconsin’s turkey populations through the same method.

Follow Eli on Twitter: @StoriesByEli

Eli is the science and environment reporter at St. Louis Public Radio.

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