Ruffed Grouse Survival and Population Structure in Western North Carolina

Sound management of ruffed grouse (Bonasa umbellus) populations requires an understanding of survival and cause-specific mortality; however, these parameters have not been investigated at the southern extent of the species' range. Ruffed grouse were studied in the mountains of western North Carolina. Grouse (n = 276) were radiotagged and monitored >3 times/week. Mean annual survival was greater than reports from the northern core of the species' range. Seasonal survival was greatest in summer, followed by fall, winter, and spring. Of 155 mortalities, the greatest proportion was attributed to mammalian, followed by avian, and unknown predation, hunter harvest, and other. Scavenging prior to transmitter recovery may have positively biased mammalian predation rates. Despite long hunting seasons that extended into winter, hunter harvest rates were among the lowest reported in the literature. Population densities, estimated annually in spring, were 5.9-11.4 grouse/100 ha and showed no association with hunter harvest. Survival rates showed an inverse relation with population density. Lower survival when population density was greatest may be related to habitat availability.

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