Create a ruffed grouse drumming log
During spring, male ruffed grouse will use the drumming log to create a distinctive "thump, thump, thump' during its courtship rite.
Ten years ago I created an artificial ruffed grouse drumming log on my property south of town. My hope was the fake log would be to the liking of a romantic male grouse, and would ultimately become a stage from which he would launch his springtime expressions of love.
I’m happy to report a male grouse used my faux log as his courtship stage three years in a row, at which point my “log” rotted away.
Last week I built and placed a new faux log. This I located in a different area on my land, close to crab apple trees I’ve planted as food for grouse and other birds, and evergreens for winter cover.
The majority of my land located south of Brainerd is covered by sedge meadows, alder and willow -- swampy stuff. There are a few tamaracks, and a few balsam firs and spruce, too. The small spots of high ground I have are inhabited by bur oak, and a few small islands of aspen.
It's obvious my property is not ideal habitat for ruffed grouse, with very few adequate drumming sites. To remedy that, I implemented an artificial drumming log.
I assembled my man-made drumming log by rolling up a 6-foot length of 2-inch by 4-inch welded wire fencing. Then I fastened outdoor carpeting to the wire using cable ties to complete my “lover’s lane for ruffed grouse.”
During spring, male ruffed grouse perform one of nature’s most captivating courtship rites. The urge to procreate brings amorous male birds to a fallen tree -- a theater so to speak -- where they perform their “thump, thump, thump” breeding sound with exceptional reliability. The drumming sound is made as the bird strikes the air with its wings vigorously enough to create a brief vacuum causing, in effect, a miniature sonic boom.
Over a lifetime of observing ruffed grouse drumming logs, I’ve noticed males prefer to drum from the trunk of a downed tree that has its roots sticking up -- or a stump -- at its base. A male grouse almost always chooses his spot on the log about 2 or 3 feet from the root mass. To satisfy this preference I affixed some extra wire to one end of the “faux log” and attached sticks and grass to simulate a natural root structure.
I placed the artificial drumming log among the aspens and close to evergreens where there were no other probable drumming sites. The entire undertaking is more of an experiment for me; first, to see if a grouse would use the faux log, and second, to determine if a grouse could be enticed to drum in a location with less than ideal habitat.
One might ask “why not just fell a tree to make a grouse drumming log.” I have done that with success, but the fake drumming log was situated in a spot where there are no trees with trunks large enough to suit a grouse.
As a hunter, habitat manager and wildlife photographer, I’ve been a student of ruffed grouse for decades. These wonderful forest birds are remarkably resilient. Historically ruffed grouse have prospered due in part to forest fires. Now, because of forest fire suppression, grouse habitat is “regenerated” in large part by clearcutting old-growth habitat. In other words, forest management now duplicates what forest fires used to provide.
But, in my opinion, clearcutting, in many cases, fails to provide drumming sites. A 10-year-old aspen cut offers excellent grouse habitat for most of the year, but in my observation, most land managers fail to leave adequate drumming logs within those clear-cuts. After all, how much extra effort would it take to leave a few downed trees (future drumming sites) within each clear-cut? Not much.
Will my homemade drumming log we used by a passionate grouse this spring? The results to be continued.
BILL MARCHEL is a wildlife and outdoors photographer and writer whose work appears in many regional and national publications as well as the Brainerd Dispatch. He may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. You also can visit his website at BillMARCHEL.com.