News release: Prairie chicken and sharp-tailed grouse hunters can help with northwestern Minnesota research

September 25, 2023

Voluntary submission of wing or tail feathers needed for study

Hunters can help researchers in a study looking at whether hybridization between prairie chickens and sharp-tailed grouse is influencing prairie chicken populations.

The long-term effects of hybridization on Minnesota’s prairie chicken population are unknown, but hybridization is a potential concern. As production of hybrid offspring increases, the gene pools of these species mix and the number of pure prairie chicken and sharptail chicks is reduced.

“It is unclear whether sharp-tailed grouse expansion and hybridization is contributing to our challenges in maintaining and increasing the prairie chicken population,” said Charlotte Roy, grouse project leader with the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources. “We are trying to determine if the changes we are observing are driven by increasing woody encroachment of grasslands, or whether hybridization could also be at play.”

Prairie chickens and sharp-tailed grouse are both classified as Species in Greatest Conservation Need in the state, as habitat loss continues to be a challenge in managing these prairie and brushland species. In northwestern Minnesota, prairie chicken booming grounds are disappearing. Sharp-tailed grouse range has expanded southward, and sharp-tailed grouse dancing grounds have increased in prairie chicken range. Hybridization between the species seems to be increasing and wildlife managers and researchers have observed more sharp-tailed grouse and hybrids at prairie chicken booming grounds in recent years.

To help researchers, prairie chicken and sharp-tailed grouse hunters in northwestern Minnesota can voluntarily submit wing or tail feathers from each bird they harvest this season. Researchers from the Minnesota DNR, North Dakota Game and Fish Department and University of North Dakota will use the wing samples as they study the habitat changes and behavior influencing sharp-tailed grouse expansion into prairie chicken range.

“Hunters are important to the success of this research project. Data from the feathers they submit will help researchers inform future prairie chicken and sharp-tailed grouse management with the goal that populations of both species stay at their current levels or increase” Roy said.

Hunters can submit five to 10 large wing or tail feathers from each bird in a separate paper envelope (please do not mix feathers from different birds together) labeled with the county of harvest and mail the envelopes to: Grouse Research, DNR Regional Headquarters, 1201 E Highway 2, Grand Rapids, MN 55744.

For more information, visit the Minnesota DNR prairie chicken management webpage or the sharp-tailed grouse webpage.

For more information on grouse hunting, visit the Minnesota DNR grouse hunting webpage.

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