(This video was originally broadcast on Iowa Outdoors, Episode 302, April 19, 2013.)

As winter melts away, the outdoors are filled with sounds from our avian friends.  In Iowa's northeast corner there is an effort underway to expand the population of a unique game bird, one that beats its wings to a different drum. 

On a crisp April morning, not far from the small northeast Iowa town of Highlandville, a rare sight is emerging from its winter slumber, a small game bird known as the ruffed grouse, begins his springtime ritual.

Terry Haindfield, Wildlife Biologist, Iowa DNR: Watching a ruffed grouse go onto a log in a type of a structure that he's protected from predators and to display his ruffs from his neck and also to fain tail but also then to pop his wings back and forth into the drumming fashion is incredible to witness or to hear from a distance.

Using a log as his soapbox, the ruffed grouse inflates his feathery coat to impress a potential mate.  His high altitude perch also provides an ideal lookout for potential predators.  But this ideal mating habitat is dwindling and Iowa DNR researchers are taking note.

Haindfield: The 1980s and 1990s the Iowa Department of Natural Resources Wildlife Bureau started recognizing that our forests were actually changing quite drastically. So in 2005 we developed what is called Forest Wildlife Stewardship Plans, long-term plans with looking at inventory of what we have for forest resources, trees and shrubs, developing objectives for that particular area and then writing prescriptions for forest management for the needed habitats for wildlife.  

Wildlife management area inventories revealed that in the 1970s and 1980s, young forest habitats for ruffed grouse and other birds measured 25-45%.  In 2010, only 1-3% of this young forest habitat was available after maturing forest caused decline of not only the ruffed grouse but the American woodcock, eastern towhee, yellow billed cuckoo and blue and yellow winged warblers.  To increase bird habitat, an effort is underway to expand and create new young forest.  For ruffed grouse, a critical step is cutting down mature Aspen trees.

Haindfield: To create early successional habitat you can cut adult or mature Aspen trees and actually sprout lots of other new stems and new seedlings from the root systems.  Hundreds of Aspen seedlings will grow up and create the necessary habitat for wildlife species that need to have a young forest.

Other trees needed for ideal habitats include red cedars, young oak, hazelnut, dogwood and plum.  Shrubs provide not only shelter from predators, but also a food source in the berries they produce.  The Wildlife Bureau's plan would not be possible without the help of private landowners.  A cost share program was developed to help encourage private owners to build habitat for ruffed grouse on their property and in turn help bring the population back.

Jerry Johnson, Land Owner, Winneshiek County: It's a matter of getting some of those mature woodlands cleared out of logging and getting some second growth trees on those properties if we're going to bring grouse habitat back.

These plans for young forest and the subsequent newly created wildlife habitat are a plan that stretches far into the future ensuring that forest with a diversity of tree and shrub species will lead to wildlife being better served.

Johnson: It's great that the DNR is educating the public to know about this and to keep this bird as a primary part of our wildlife in this part of the state and adapting habitat so they can continue to be part of Iowa's heritage.

Gilchrist Foundation