Grousse hunters will likely see fewer birds
- Dick Mason
The ruffed grouse is an unwitting imitator of human sounds.
The noises male ruffed grouse create while beating their wings, usually during the spring mating season, are compared to the sounds of drummers, lawn mowers starting and even woodworkers.
Indians once called ruffed grouse "the carpenter bird'' because they thought its sounds were made by beating its wings against logs.
People have been hearing less of these human sound imitators over the past three years in Union and Wallowa counties because of declining numbers. This is bad news for hunters on the eve of the opening of ruffed and blue grouse season. The season starts Saturday and runs through Nov. 25 in Eastern Oregon.
In Wallowa County the birds' populations have been harmed in recent years by wet spring weather that hurt nesting success, said Enterprise ODFW Biologist Vic Coggins. However, nesting success appears to have been good this year because of drier spring weather. But this will not make up for the losses of previous years in Wallowa County, Coggins said.
Numbers also appear to be down in Union County, according to La Grande ODFW Biologist Jim Cadwell.
"We have not seen large broods of grouse,'' he said. "We have also seen adults with no young of the year.''
Because of dry conditions, Cadwell advises people to hunt near springs and in brushy areas near streams because grouse will be congregating near water.
Hunters in Union and Wallowa counties will also see spruce and sharp-tailed grouse, both of which are illegal to kill. Hunters should be particularly careful not to mistake spruce grouse for ruffed grouse since they look similar.
The key distinguishing feature hunters should look for in spruce grouse is a red eyebrow.
Hunters should also make note of a grouse's behavior. Spruce grouse are much tamer than blue and ruffed grouse.
"They often have very little fear of people," Cadwell said. "You can walk right up to one.''
Spruce grouse are more common in Wallowa County but are also found in Union County in the higher elevation portions of the Catherine Creek unit.
Successful hunters are again encouraged to place grouse wings and tails in marked ODFW collection barrels. The wings and tails will be examined by biologists as part of an ODFW study. Each barrel contains instructions for hunters on how to deposit the wings and tails.
Biologists examining grouse wings can quickly determine the age and sex of each bird. This allows them to better understand the structure of grouse populations.
The ODFW has been conducting grouse wing studies in Northeast Oregon for more than two decades.
Wing barrels will be placed in Union County at the following locations:
Â•Intersection of Forest Service Road 31 and Tollgate Highway
Â• Base of Mount Harris road
Â• Intersection of the Palmer Junction and Lookingglass roads
Â• Junction of the Catherine Creek and Hess Cabin roads
Â• Near the junction of Ladd Creek Road and Interstate 84
Â• Junction of Interstate 84 and Forest Service Road 31
Wing barrels will be placed in Wallowa County at the following locations:
Â• Sheep Creek Hill east of Joseph
Â• Mouth of Chesnimnus Creek
Â• Highway 82 near Minam
Â• Highway 3 junction with Forest Service Road 46
People can also bring grouse wings and tails to ODFW offices in La Grande and Enterprise.
Mourning dove season also opens Saturday and runs statewide through Dec. 16. There are a limited number of mourning doves in Northeast Oregon, and all migrate south following the first frost of late summer or early fall, Cadwell said.