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Ruffed Grouse Habitat Management

Management for grouse should be directed at creating or maintaining a variety of forest habitats, specifically; breeding cover, nesting cover, brood rearing cover, and fall/winter cover.

Breeding habitat centers around the availability of suitable drumming logs. Males select level logs on sites where the vegetation allows visibility of at least 60 feet. The area must have sufficient stem density and canopy coverage to provide protection from hawks and owls. At least one drumming log per acre is required. The best breeding habitat is found in 10 to 25 year old hardwood stands with densities that tend to range from 2,500 to 15,000 stems per acre, depending on the site and hardwood species.

Preferred nesting habitats have more open understories, lower densities of woody stems, and less ground cover than the habitat used for drumming. Nesting habitat is comprised of young hardwood stands which are 15 to 30+ years old, with trees 2" to 8" DBH, and somewhat open understories. Stem densities may range from 2,000 to 8,000 stems per acre but will vary depending on the site and hardwood species present.

Hens with broods prefer habitats which support a diverse mixture of herbaceous plants with succulent leaves, fruits, and an abundance of insects. Broods need habitat which is open at ground level so as not to restrict movement, but with overhead cover to provide protection from predators. Five to fifteen year old hardwood clearcuts meet these conditions.

During the fall and winter, grouse utilize a wide variety of habitats. The best winter cover exists in clearcut hardwood stands that are 10 to 30+ years old. Moist sites within clearcuts are heavily utilized in winter because they support a wide variety of food sources. Laurel and greenbrier thickets serve as important fall/winter foods particularly in the southeast. Rhododendron and/or white pine thickets may provide thermal cover.

To create the desired future habitat conditions for ruffed grouse, habitat management practices should include:

  • Clearcutting as the primary habitat management technique.
  • Providing critical cover types within a small area (50 to 100 acres) adjacent to each other.
  • Managing forest stands on a pulpwood or short rotation of 40 to 60 years.
  • Creating small clearcuts (no larger than 15 acres), irregularly shaped, and well distributed throughout the woodland.
  • Leaving at least one drumming log per acre cut.
  • Leaving any soft mast shrub and tree species present, particularly grape vines. Retaining a variety of hard mast trees (oaks, hickories, gum, beech, cherry, etc.).
  • Leaving no den/perch trees within grouse cuts, to reduce habitat for predators.
  • Promoting the natural seeding of white pine whenever possible on small areas for winter cover.
  • Daylighting roads at least 50 feet on each side.
  • Stabilizing haul roads, skid trails, and landings with a grass/legume mixture (no fescue). Soft mast plantings should be incorporated around landings and skid roads, using native species which retain fruit late into winter.

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