Ruffed Grouse Reproductive Ecology and Nest Site Selection in Western North Carolina

Relatively low fecundity may be responsible for lower Ruffed Grouse (Bonasa umbellus) populations in the southern Appalachians compared to those in more northern areas of the species ' range. Nutritional stress imposed by poor-quality habitat and greater nest predation have been cited as negative influences on reproduction in the region. We monitored 56 female grouse during the reproductive season in the Appalachian Mountains of North Carolina, 1999 - 2004, to measure reproductive success and evaluate cover used for nesting. Nests (n = 44) were located to determine fate and habitat characteristics. Nesting rate (78%) was lower than most reports, and mean first nest clutch size of 9.7 eggs was less than that reported in the Great Lakes states but was within the range reported in the central and southern Appalachians. Mayfield estimated nest survival was 0.83 (± 0.084 SE) and the proportion of successful nests was 81%, which is among the greatest reported. Only 11% of females (1 of 9) renested following an initial nest failure, and overall hen success was only 61%. Females nested in various forest types with 86% occurring in stands >40 years old. Vegetation and topographic characteristics at nests did not differ from paired, random sites. Cover for nesting was not limiting. Increased nutrition during winter and early spring made available through increased forest management (regeneration harvests and improvement cuts) should lead to improved female physical condition and an increased nesting rate and overall hen success.

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