Dusky grouse (formerly ‘blue grouse’) are a popular mountain forest grouse game species in Montana. This is a large grouse (larger than spruce grouse, smaller than a wild turkey) that lives in mountain forests, especially those dominated by ponderosa and lodgepole pine, quaking aspen, and firs. Males are a dark gray with purple air sacs on their neck and red eye combs that they display during the breeding season, along with performing flutter flights, when attempting to attract a mate. Their tail feathers are dark gray to almost black with a white band across the end that can be seen when they fan their tail. The females are highly camouflaged with mottled dark gray-brown feathers.
FWP used to monitor these grouse using breeding season hooting counts, but currently populations of forest grouse are rarely and inconsistently surveyed. Estimating the size of dusky grouse populations has been difficult due to widely dispersed and relatively remote habitats, relatively low bird densities, variable detection rates, and inconsistent survey protocols. In general, there are currently few systematic surveys conducted in North America to evaluate their population trends, which significantly limits effective management of this species. Moreover, formal evaluations of survey methods have never been conducted for this species. To properly manage these gamebirds, reliable survey techniques need to be developed, tested, and implemented, which are the goals of this project.
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Dusky grouse are managed as an upland game bird in Montana.
Dusky grouse (Dendragapus obscurus; previously ‘blue grouse’) provide important opportunities for upland bird hunters and bird watchers in Montana. Though recent information is lacking, the estimated number of upland bird hunters pursuing dusky grouse in Montana averaged c.a. 7,000 during 2001–07 (FWP upland game bird stats). Forest grouse are likely to become even more important considering increasing interest in small game hunting by a younger generation (U.S. Department of Interior 2011).
There are currently few systematic surveys conducted to evaluate population trends of dusky grouse in North America (M. Schroeder, Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife, personal communication). Historically, Montana FWP (formerly Game and Fish) allocated considerable effort to monitoring forest grouse populations using breeding season hooting counts, as well as brood counts, during late summer (Rogers 1963). Currently however, surveys for forest grouse, including dusky grouse, are rarely or inconsistently conducted in the state, significantly limiting effective management (Newell 2016). Moreover, formal evaluations of survey methods have never been conducted for the species. To properly manage these gamebirds, reliable survey techniques need to be developed, tested, and implemented. Harvest rates, distribution, and effects of harvest and habitat management on populations is largely unknown for forest grouse in Montana.
The primary objectives of this study are to:
Generate a predictive model of habitat suitability for dusky grouse throughout their range in Montana, that will allow us to:
Develop and evaluate unbiased survey methods that provide statewide and regional estimates of dusky grouse densities and annual trend monitoring in Montana, and
Develop methods that facilitate rigorous and cost-effective evaluations of grouse-habitat relationships and the effects of management (e.g., timber harvest).
Department of Animal & Range Science
Montana State Univserity
Montana Fish, Wildlife, and Parks
Wildlife Manager (Retired)
Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks
Wildlife Research Biologist
Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks
Financial support for this project has been provided by Pittman-Robertson funds issued to Montana Fish, Wildlife, and Parks by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.