DNR seeks feather samples to study sharp-witted prairie chicken hybrids – Grand Forks Herald

The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources is asking grouse and sharp-tailed prairie chicken hunters in northwestern Minnesota to submit wing and tail feather samples from birds they shoot this fall as part of the study, in cooperation with the United Nations and the North Dakota Game and Fish Department. To learn more about hybridization between the two types of prairie grouse.

Minnesota’s prairie chicken season begins Saturday and continues through November, while the limited prairie chicken season begins September 30 and continues through October 8. The DNR offered 125 prairie chicken licenses by lottery this year, and there is a quota of two birds per hunter.

According to Charlotte Roy, a grouse research scientist with the DNR in Grand Rapids, Minn., sharptails are moving south into the prairie chicken’s range more frequently.

She says why this happens is not known with certainty, but wildlife managers report that sharp-tailed chickens are aggressive and outcompete prairie chickens for breeding grounds.

The prairie chicken’s range is restricted to part of northwestern and farwestern Minnesota, with a small pocket in central Minnesota. In comparison, sharpheads are most abundant in northwestern Minnesota and, to a lesser extent, in the east-central part of the state.

Authentic prairie chicken. (Photo/Jesse Kollar, North Dakota Game and Fish Department)

The severe flow is most evident in areas like Polk, Mahnomin and Red Lake counties, all of which are on the northern edge of the prairie chicken’s range, Roy said.

“We’re not sure if this is happening because the habitat is changing, because we have more wood creepers,” she said. “The number of (prairie chicken) flowering areas is decreasing in the northern part of their range, and the dancing areas are actually increasing in this part of the mustache-tailed range in Minnesota.”

Charlotte Roy female spruce grouse.JPG

Charlotte Roy, a grouse research scientist with the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources, holds a female spruce grouse in this undated photo.

Contributed/Charlotte Roy

The prairie chicken does not tolerate dense habitat, while the sharptail requires dense cover. When the two species mate, the result is a grouse that is neither sharp-tailed nor prairie chicken, Roy says.

“The hybrids look like something between a prairie chicken and a sharp-tailed grouse, but they are actually neither species,” she said. “They often act somewhat differently than either type would; sometimes, they will have aspects of both types at the same time.

These aspects can include similar markings or tails that are neither round like a prairie chicken nor pointed like a sharptail. In some cases, instead of making the “booming” sound that male prairie chickens make to attract a mate, male prairie chickens sound more like a broken drum.

“You get a whole bunch of different things,” Roy said. “We’ve seen some (hybrids) that look just like prairie chickens, but when you hear them call, they sound like they’re choking.

“You get some different subtle differences that might be a little hard to recognize as hybrids, per se, but you know something’s not quite right.”

Photo 2 pure Sharptail.jpg

Purebred sharp-tailed grouse. (Photo/Jesse Kollar, North Dakota Game and Fish Department)

The upcoming study is a follow-up to genetics research conducted a few years ago that also found a “very high rate of interbreeding,” Roy said. Jesse Kollar, upland game management supervisor for the North Dakota Game and Fish Department, and Susan Felig, a professor in the Department of Biology at UND, are collaborating on the study by providing samples from Grand Forks County, where prairie chickens and sharp-tailed hybrids are widespread. . Documented.

“We want to take another look because some time has passed,” Roy said. “There are some things going on in this northern part of the prairie chicken’s range with habitat change, and we’re not quite sure how that manifests itself.

“In some areas, hybrids aren’t a big problem, and then in other cases, it can be something that can have an impact on overall reproduction.”

Hybrid males are usually less successful at reproducing than females, which are fertile and can successfully mate with either species, Roy says.

“Then you get this kind of mixing between gene sets, and it can have different effects, depending on the conditions that occur, so we’re trying to figure that out,” she said.

While samples from areas like Polk, Red Lake, and Mahnomin counties are of particular interest, Roy says she will sample wings and feathers from anywhere in northwestern Minnesota, whether it’s a sharp-witted chicken, a prairie chicken, or a hybrid.

“We want to look at the ratio of pure birds to hybrid birds, so we will need samples from hunters throughout the Northwest,” Roy said.

She says hunters who provide samples should pluck wing or tail feathers rather than cut them off, because the genetic material they need is in the part of the feather that enters the bird. She said hunters must provide between 5 and 10 large wing or tail feathers from each bird harvested.

“If they cut off the feathers, they will leave all the DNA in the bird and send us a whole bunch of other material that doesn’t contain the DNA,” Roy said.

To submit a sample for study, hunters must place the wing and tail feathers from each bird in separate paper envelopes — do not mix feathers from different birds together — addressed to the harvest county, and mail them to Grouse Research, DNR regional headquarters, 1202 E. Highway 2, Grand Rapids, MN 55744.

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