Sharp-tailed grouse hunting and management
Sharp-tailed grouse are a resident game bird of Wisconsin. These grouse depend on young, open pine, oak barren, and savanna ecosystems. Historically, sharp-tailed grouse were found throughout the state. Due to habitat loss and fragmentation, most sharp-tailed grouse in Wisconsin are now found in the northwest.
Sharp-tailed grouse management began in Wisconsin during the late 1940s and early 1950s in response to concerns about habitat loss. Today, the DNR and several partner groups are working to restore and preserve the habitat necessary for sharp-tailed grouse and other barrens-dependent species. Some larger state-owned areas focusing on sharp-tailed grouse management include Crex Meadows Wildlife Area and Namekagon Barrens Wildlife Area.
- Sharp-tailed Grouse: A bird of disappearing landscapes
- Sharp-tailed Grouse: A bird of disappearing landscapes - Brochure
Pine and oak barrens, vital habitats for sharp-tailed grouse, were once widespread in Wisconsin but are now considered globally threatened. Due to land use changes and fire suppression, the barrens of northwest Wisconsin exist in scattered fragments, surrounded by a forested landscape. Habitat fragmentation can threaten the long-term viability of species native to this ecosystem.
The DNR uses the Northwest Sands Habitat Corridor Plan to combat habitat fragmentation by identifying and restoring habitat corridors between existing barren patches in the northwest sands' ecological landscape. The goal is to create a non-fragmented landscape that could benefit sharp-tailed grouse and other barren-dependent species.
Spring lek surveys
Each spring, surveys for sharp-tailed grouse are conducted on dancing grounds, also known as leks. Leks are a communal display area where males gather to attract and mate with females. Male sharp-tailed grouse have a unique mating display consisting of rapid stepping motions with their tail pointed upward and wings outstretched.
Surveyors locate leks and count the number of birds present using flush surveys or observation blinds. Lek survey data and past harvest rates are considered when determining the harvest quota each year.
Wisconsin sharp-tailed grouse management plan
The Wisconsin Sharp-tailed Grouse Management Plan contains information on sharp-tailed grouse taxonomy, natural history, habitat requirements, population status and distribution, and management goals and strategies for ensuring the long-term viability of sharp-tailed grouse populations in Wisconsin.
Sharp-tailed Grouse Advisory Committee
The Sharp-tailed Grouse Advisory Committee, a diverse group representing government agencies, non-governmental organizations, tribal interests and conservation groups, meets to discuss issues relating to sharp-tailed grouse management.
The Sharp-tailed Grouse Advisory Committee reviews and makes recommendations on managing sharp-tailed grouse in Wisconsin. The Committee advises the Wildlife Policy Team on various topics such as hunting regulations, surveys and research priorities.
Committee meeting information
Sharp-tailed grouse populations have been declining across North America since the early 1900s. Each year the sharp-tailed grouse Advisory Committee uses spring dancing ground surveys to recommend permit levels for the sharp-tailed grouse hunting season. The Department of Natural Resources considers recommendations, and a decision is made on how many permits are available.
The Sharp-tailed Grouse Advisory Committee and the DNR hope to allow harvest in future years when population health indices suggest it appropriate. We offer our continued thanks to those passionate about Wisconsin's strong and historical tradition of sharp-tailed grouse hunting.
Although no permits will be issued this year, by state law, sharp-tailed grouse will retain their status as a game species. DNR staff members are hopeful that the population will respond positively to ongoing significant habitat management efforts occurring in the northwest part of the state where critical barren habitat remains. Visit our wildlife survey page for more information on lek survey results.
Sharp-tailed grouse viewing opportunity
Sharp-tailed grouse, a native prairie bird, are currently found only in suitable habitats in isolated areas of the state. Similar to more extraordinary prairie chickens, sharp tails gather at grassy openings called dancing grounds or leks during the early morning hours of spring. At the dancing grounds, males court the females by spreading their wings, rapidly stomping their feet and rattling their upturned tails as they coo and gobble with beautiful purple air sacks inflated on their necks. Viewing sharp-tails dancing is an experience you will never forget.
Dancing peaks from April 15 to May 15, depending on the year. Wildlife management staff put blinds on the NBWA to aid in viewing and surveying the spring population of sharp-tailed grouse.
To learn more and reserve a spot in one of the sharp-tailed grouse dancing ground viewing blinds contact the Friends of the Namekagon Barrens Wildlife Area (FNBWA) .