Not every ruffed grouse across Pennsylvania is quite the same as the next. Some – though wild, undomesticated birds – might even be called “tame,” meaning they show little fear of or even act aggressively toward people, especially in spring and fall.
A #WildSciPA video available on the Game Commission’s YouTube channel shows just what that looks like.
But does that behavior matter, to grouse and grouse management?
The Pennsylvania Game Commission is seeking the public’s help in answering that question. The agency – charged with perpetuating wildlife species including grouse over the long term – is conducting a ruffed grouse genetics study in cooperation with Pennsylvania State University. The research aims to determine whether the Commonwealth’s grouse population shows signs of splitting up into distinct subpopulations and if “tame” behavior is linked to genetics. The results of this study will ensure habitat management efforts are targeted to improve and maintain grouse population connectivity.
Accordingly, the Game Commission is encouraging Pennsylvanians to report the location of any “tame” grouse they see this spring by sending an email to firstname.lastname@example.org. That email should include the person’s name and phone number, date of the sighting, location of the encounter and a description of the grouse’s behavior.
Ideally, those sending in a report should also include GPS coordinates for the encounter site. If that information isn’t available, reporters should provide as much other detail about the location of the encounter as possible, listing things like the county and/or township, the name of the property (like a particular state game lands, for instance), the property address, the closest intersection and the like.
Game Commission staff may reach out to those who report encounters for additional information, if necessary.
Field staff will then visit those locations where “tame” grouse sightings occurred to capture birds and collect a genetic sample from each.
“You may be familiar with mail-order kits where a simple saliva sample or mouth swab can unlock all kinds of information about your own ancestry or information about the breed background of your dog,” said Game Commission grouse biologist Reina Tyl. “We will be sampling these ‘tame’ grouse in essentially the same way, swabbing their mouth and sending the swab off for genetic analysis.”
All grouse from which samples are taken will be released immediately afterward at the same sites they were captured.
The more birds the Game Commission can sample, the better. That’s why public participation is so important to this project, Tyl said. It’s really the key to success with this effort.
“Gaining a more complete understanding of the genetic diversity of Pennsylvania’s grouse population is critical to ensure proper management of our beloved state bird,” she added.