Dusky “blue” grouse range expanded to Mogollon Rim by Game and Fish

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September 29th, 2008

Chicken-sized bird offers upland hunters and bird-watchers a unique opportunity

The dusky “blue” grouse’s population and range are increasing in Arizona due to recent translocation efforts by the Arizona Game and Fish Department to offer upland hunters, bird watchers, and outdoor recreationists another area to enjoy this unique bird.

Over a two-week-long effort, Arizona Game and Fish biologists, wildlife managers and interns worked tirelessly in the field to capture 20 birds near Moab, Utah, and then 12 more from the North Kaibab Plateau in Arizona. Thirty-two blue grouse in total were captured, banded, and some fitted with transmitters, and then released near the Rim Lakes on the Mogollon Rim.

“This first translocation went very well,” said Ron Day, small game, predator and furbearer biologist for the Arizona Game and Fish Department. “Many thanks go to the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources, who allowed us to capture grouse from their state. Utah has a much more robust dusky grouse population, and we were able to capture a lot of birds in a short time.”

Dusky grouse, previously referred to as blue grouse, are the second largest of the grouse family. Males can weigh up to 3 pounds. They are a dusky blue-grey color and, like most grouse, exhibit the broad fan-tail with a distinctive band across the feathers. Their habitat consists of subalpine mixed conifer forests of Douglas fir, spruce, aspen and grassland meadow areas for foraging. Before this translocation, blue grouse could only be found on the North Kaibab Plateau, the highest peaks of the White Mountains, and a very limited range atop the San Francisco Peaks.

“Our research determined this area of the Mogollon Rim has a large amount of contiguous mixed conifer habitat that is very suitable for grouse,” says Day. “Our goal is to bring this unique bird into sustainable populations to offer sportsmen and wildlife watchers a closer location to enjoy these birds.”

In the second year of a five-year effort to expand the range of the blue grouse to this region, additional translocations may involve up to four different release sites and, when established, should provide for sustainable populations for years to come.

The project is funded through the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s Wildlife Restoration Program, which generates its funding through excise taxes on firearms, ammunition, archery equipment and arrow components and then apportions the funding to state wildlife agencies.

However, grouse hunters should note that Unit 4A and 5A are closed hunting areas. There is no hunting allowed in the area of a translocation for five years after the last transplant date. For example, if this were the last translocation, these birds could not be hunted until 2013.

Also, turkey hunters in Units 4A and 5A are cautioned to be certain of their target. Blue grouse look very similar to a young turkey.

For future hunters, the prospect of hunting this challenging bird and then taking in some trout fishing on the Mogollon Rim will be well worth today’s efforts. Science-based translocation programs follow the North American Model of Wildlife Conservation and are designed to increase diversity of wildlife populations throughout the state and beyond to the benefit of all citizens.

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