Southern Oregon upland gamebird hunters are starting to get accustomed to submitting the wings and tails of the birds they shoot as part of a long-term and inexpensive way of tracking population trends of these popular birds, but researchers say more Western Oregon hunters need to follow suit.

Despite a strong showing from Jackson County hunters, Western Oregon hunters submitted just one-third of the wings and tails collected last year statewide even though 55 percent of the sooty grouse and 61 percent of ruffed grouse are shot west of the Cascade crest, according to the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife.

"We did much better last year, for sure," says Dave Budeau, ODFW's upland gamebird program coordinator. "But we're definitely trying to get more wings from Western Oregon.

What the data showed was above-average upland gamebird production last year, with immature birds accounting for two-thirds of sooty (formerly called blue) grouse and about half the ruffed grouse, Budeau says.

Hunters are asked to drop off the wings and tails of these birds as well as the day and location of where they were shot. Collection barrels have been placed in several locations in Jackson, Josephine and Curry counties.

While wings and tails are collected throughout the season, they will be frozen and stored until next year, when ODFW biologists hold a so-called "Wing Bee," when they congregate in Roseburg for a day of reading the wings and accumulating the data.

Over time, the years of data can be compared to track relative trends regarding these birds instead of relying on Harvest Information Program cards or turning to more expensive sampling programs, according to ODFW.

The wings show when the birds molt, which will tell biologists their age so they can get an idea of how many adults to young-of-the-year are getting shot. The wings also identify a sooty grouse's gender, while the tail fills the gender bill for roughed grouse.

With juvenile birds, examining the molting of feathers can show when the birds hatched within a few days, and that could help track peak hatch and the hatch period. Also, hens that are successful at generating hatchlings tend to molt later than unsuccessful hens, so production rates can be estimated.

Grouse, California quail and mountain quail seasons in Western Oregon all opened Sept. 1 and run through Jan. 31.

In this region, ruffed grouse are found just off the Rogue Valley floor, while sooty grouse are generally found above 3,500-feet, Vargas says. With their tell-tale long and straight head plume, mountain quail are found locally in thick brush on hillsides above 2,500 feet.

Sooty grouse used to be called blue grouse, but that species recently has been split into sooty grouse in Western Oregon and dusky grouse in Eastern Oregon.

Reach Mail Tribune reporter Mark Freeman at 541-776-4470 or mfreeman@mailtribune.com. Follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/MTwriterFreeman.