These birds were once hunted in Missouri, then disappeared. Now, 100 of them are back

A lot of birds head south this time of year, but not all of them get a ride.

One hundred ruffed grouse recently got an all-expenses-paid trip from northern Wisconsin to east-central Missouri as part of a repopulation effort.

Ruffed grouse, which are native to Missouri, have all but disappeared from the Show-Me State. Their hunting season ended years ago because of the loss.

These 100 birds will be followed by another 100 next year and another 100 in 2020.

All the birds, which look something like chickens, were released in the River Hills region, the largest contiguous block of forest north of the Missouri River. Grouse need large areas of young forest habitat.

The effort is a partnership between the Missouri Department of Conservation and the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources.

“This year’s grouse restoration effort went very well,” said Jason Isabelle of the conservation department in an announcement. “Between constructing, setting and running traps, processing, transporting and releasing birds, managing habitat and all the logistics involved with a project like this, it was truly a team effort.”

The bird is of the pheasant family and is typically 17 inches from bill to tip of the tail. Both males and females have a dark ruff on the neck. In spring, the male will perform a mating ritual by standing on a log and rapidly pumping his wings to create a drum-like sound.

The Missouri River Hills Conservation Opportunity Area is between St. Louis and Columbia, from Warren County to Callaway County. It includes several large tracts of public land.

“It was a former stronghold for the ruffed grouse,” Isabelle said.

In exchange for the birds, Missouri is making a donation to Wisconsin’s efforts to create habitat for the ruffed grouse.

In the past, Missouri has provided wild turkeys to bolster the now robust population in Wisconsin.

“Strong partnerships are critical to keep conservation thriving and moving forward,” said Conservation Department Director Sara Parker Pauley.

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