The Decline of Indiana's Ruffed Grouse

Have you ever heard a ruffed grouse drumming? It's primeval: as it calls for a mate, it beats a slow rhythmic thrumming that spins up, the drumming too fast to count. You feel it in your own chest as much as you hear it.

Nowadays, if someone from Indiana wants to hear a grouse drumming, their best bet is to hop in the car and head to Michigan or Wisconsin. That wasn’t always the case, though. In the early 1980s, ruffed grouse were present in 41 of Indiana’s 92 counties. Now, it is estimated that less than one percent of that population remains. These birds are native to Indiana, and they're disappearing.

What happened? As is almost always the case with species in decline, the primary issue is loss of habitat.

Ruffed grouse need young forests to thrive. Young forests are created through a process called disturbance. Simply put, a force such as fire or wind opens up the tree canopy and exposes the forest floor to sunlight. The gaps that result are filled with a huge diversity of saplings and plants which provide food and cover for wildlife. Areas like this are a ruffed grouse's preferred habitat for up to 20 years post-disturbance. This type of habitat is termed "early-successional."

The fragmented landscape that we live in today limits the effect that the historical forces of fire and wind have on our ecosystems. Instead, land managers must use science-based tools, such as sustainable timber harvest and prescribed burns. These tools can replicate the effects of natural disturbance and create necessary habitat for ruffed grouse and other species that depend on early successional habitat.

The Indiana Chapter of Backcountry Hunters & Anglers supports the proposal by the Indiana Natural Resources Commission and the Ruffed Grouse Society to add the ruffed grouse to the list of endangered species in Indiana. Doing so would incentivize the development of necessary early successional habitat and could save the ruffed grouse in our state.

It is a first step in making sure we don't lose this native bird forever, and once again hearing the grouse drum in our own backyards.

Approximately 96 percent of Indiana’s land is privately owned, which represents an even greater need for an organization such as BHA in our state. Our remaining public land is of precious value to hunters and anglers as well as to wildlife and natural ecosystems. Join us. 

About Indiana Bha

Our chapter is dedicated to serving the interests of conservation and access to clean public lands and waters. Through planning, collaboration, and dedication, we will make a difference.

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