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Birds of the St. Croix River Valley: Minnesota and Wisconsin



Spruce Grouse -- Ruffed Grouse -- Greater Prairie Chicken -- Sharp-tailed Grouse

Spruce Grouse (Canachites canadensis)

Status: Formerly a permanent resident, two recent records.

Distribution: Scott (1943b) reported that spruce grouse were last reported in 1928 or 1929 from the town of Dairyland (T. 43 N., R. 14 W.), Douglas County. Scott believed that at one time this species probably occurred throughout northern Wisconsin and south along the St. Croix River. The presumed range in Wisconsin extended south to central Polk; County. Despite the presence of suitable spruce habitats in Pine County, this species is not known south of central St. Louis County in Minnesota (Green and Janssen 1975).

On 26 May 1978, R. Hoffman (personal communication) observed one spruce grouse in Sec. 33, T. 42 N., R. 15 W., Burnett County. Returning to the same area on 4 September 1978, Hoffman again observed a single spruce grouse.

Habitat: Scott (1943 b) reported that spruce grouse are "almost always found only in spruce-balsam swamps " ( = Lowland Coniferous Forest).

Ruffed Grouse (Bonasa umbellus)

Status: Regular permanent resident.

Distribution: Common resident in the Northern Highland and in the northern half of the Central Plain. Fairly common in the oak forests of the Central Plain and Western Upland. Breeding populations experience yearly fluctuations that are almost predictable. Attempts to correlate these fluctuations with changes in food availability have proved unsuccessful thus far.

Habitat: Nesting ruffed grouse occur in a variety of upland deciduous forest types. In the Northern Highland and parts of the Central Plain, ruffed grouse are most commonly associated with medium-aged aspen forests that contain scattered openings. In the Western Upland and areas of the Central Plain adjacent to the St. Croix River, nesting ruffed grouse are associated with medium-aged oak forests and woodlots. A well-developed shrub layer consisting of prickly ash, thorn apple, and beaked hazel is usually associated with high-quality ruffed grouse habitat.

Greater Prairie Chicken (Tympanuchus cupido)

Status: Extirpated as a natural breeding species; reintroduced in 1974.

Former Distribution: Until the late 1890's, the greater prairie chicken was an abundant species on the prairies of Pierce and St. Croix counties and ranged north to Grantsburg, Burnett County. Schorger (1943) summarized numerous accounts of the status of this species including newspaper accounts of abundance. Populations appeared to remain at high levels through 1865. The winter of 1873 was reportedly very severe and St. Croix County farmers reported the winter was extremely hard on the greater prairie chicken. Populations fluctuated considerably after 1875.

Reduced numbers of greater prairie chickens remained in St. Croix County until the 1920's, although they were still well distributed between Hammond and New Richmond. The last greater prairie chicken observed in St. Croix County was shot near Hammond in 1932. At Crex Meadows, the last greater prairie chicken reported on a booming ground was observed in April 1949.

Former status of the greater prairie chicken in the Minnesota counties is poorly known. Roberts (1932) made no reference to this species in three counties considered in the present report. Greater prairie chickens were known to breed in the vicinity of the Twin Cities at the time of Roberts. A limited amount of information is provided by Partch (1970) in summarizing the demise of this species in central Minnesota. Partch shows that greater prairie chickens were common or abundant in southern Washington County in 1849. Dispersal north through the Valley probably happened in the "late 1800's." This movement northward along the St. Croix was attributed to logging and fires creating favorable openings in sandy areas. Surber (1919) in describing an area of Pine County, stated that greater prairie chickens near Hinckley occurred "in goodly numbers" in 1919. He made an appeal to local residents to report illegal shooting so the "overflow" (of chickens) into surrounding areas would manifest another hunting season.

Current Distribution: The WDNR began a greater prairie chicken reintroduction program at Crex Meadows during October 1974. This project met with limited success during the first 2 years. In 1977, at least one female was observed with a brood near the original release site. Continued research and habitat management at Crex Meadows may prove essential in the restoration of this species in portions of its former breeding range.

Sharp-tailed Grouse (Pedioecetes phasianellus)

Status: Regular permanent resident.

Distribution: Sharp-tailed grouse were formerly well distributed throughout the Valley, with nest records from Pine, Polk, and St. Croix counties. Currently sharp-tailed grouse occur in northern Polk, central Burnett, eastern and central Pine, and southwestern Douglas counties. The largest breeding populations occur at Crex Meadows, Burnett County, and on the sharp-tailed grouse management area near Solon Springs, Douglas County. Dancing ground surveys from Crex Meadows indicate a fairly stable population, with at least eight active dancing grounds in 1976 (WDNR files).

Away from the center of the sharp-tailed grouse breeding range, this species is still occasionally observed in St. Croix County. A flock of 12 was observed near Roberts on 13 October 1976, and a single bird observed near Star Prairie on 1 November 1977.

Habitat: Sharp-tailed grouse are characteristic of mixed grasslands containing small groves of oak or aspen trees or shrubs. At the grouse management area in Douglas County, small patches of jack pine are commonly interspersed with grasslands. Most well-known sharp-tailed grouse breeding habitat in the Valley is characterized by restored prairie grasses on loose sandy soils.

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