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Upland gamebird surveys show increases
Ruffed grouse
Ruffed grouse are uncommon in many southern Wisconsin counties. For several years this Iowa County bird challenged a farmer while deer hunting and doing chores.

There are likely to be more ruffed grouse and wild ring-necked pheasants for dogs and hunters to chase when seasons open September 14 and October 19, respectively.

Both wild species have a great deal more growing to do before the guns go off and the retrievers retrieve, but  when spring drumming and crowing counts were taken, pheasants recorded were up from 0.46 pheasants per stop to 0.62 birds per stop.

Pheasants per stop were above the five-year average (0.52 to 0.62 per stop).

Statewide ruffed grouse drumming activity increased 57 percent from 2023 levels.  However the drums heard in the Driftless area decreased, while drums in the Northern and Central priority areas were both up from 2023.

In both cases observers listen for a set number of minutes at each stop on a route and the routes are the same most years.  Male pheasants crow and male ruffed grouse drum while standing on an elevated area including logs.  The best habitat areas are surveyed (listened at), which means most of Wisconsin land is not surveyed for wild pheasants.

As with all wildlife, grouse and pheasants are not evenly distributed, even in the better habitats.

Roadside survey counts of birds seen are rarely conducted.

Some folks’ interests in these birds, as with deer and turkeys, come from photographing and birding, too.

Ring-necked pheasant
Ring-necked pheasant counts are conducted by observers listening for male birds to crow along survey routes
“We see wild pheasants once in a while in Green County but mostly released birds,” said Don Martin, at Martin’s in Monroe.  “Because the birds are scarce, many hunters in these parts are not going to shoot birds, even during seasons.”

Even hunters are not likely to shoot a ruffed grouse if they see one in Columbia County,” said Doug Williams, at D W Sporting Center in Portage.  “The last one I saw was one who flew into our house door in 2000.”

When pheasants and ruffed grouse are encountered during holiday bird counts by birders, they are noted and admired.

Recent storms avoided the Poynette Game Farm pheasant pens and buildings, according the Kelly Maguire, Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources facility manager.  “We’ve hatched 11 of our 13 hatches and things have been going well.  We’ve already distributed the day-old chicks to conservation clubs and should have about 83,000 birds here when the last hatch occurs.  Some of the 83,000 birds will be kept for breeding stock and Learn-to-Hunt programs.  That’ll leave 75,000 for release on public land during the pheasant season.”

Wisconsin’s 2024 pheasant season is October 19 (9 am) to January 5, 2025.

The periodic cicadas have quieted, fawns are moving with mom, oyster mushrooms are giving some dead trees a golden tinge, wild ginseng is flowering, and some poult turkeys are appearing.

Deer continue to change appearance, habitat use, and feeding areas.

Black raspberries, aka blackcaps, are in full ripening stages, and keeping pace with garden red raspberries.  Cultivated strawberry picking is about over.

Fruits used by wildlife, and humans, are showing development progress.  While too early to rate the wild crops, there are first and second year acorns on red oaks, this year’s acorns on white oaks, walnuts and butternuts are developing, as are shagbark hickory and hazelnuts.  Wild apples are developing, too, while elderberries are blooming.  Seed cones are forming on conifers, while most pollen cones have dropped.  Japanese beetles are yet to show in most areas.

Upland prairies continue to show color with pale purple coneflowers, compass plants, yellow coneflowers, coreopsis, milkweed and others.

Mosquitoes, gnats, deer flies and garden pests are becoming quite abundant and require repellents, face masks, and time-of-day outings.  

Contact Jerry Davis, a freelance writer, at or 608.924.1112.