Species-Specific Management (SSM)

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Ruffed Grouse

Ruffed grouse, Bonasa umbellus, are an important part of the eastern United States' game bird populations. Grouse are generally considered to be early successional species. That is, they are most often seen and found in forests with a predominance of young trees as opposed to mature forests full of old trees. However, the owner of mature forests can still manage successfully for grouse by following the guidelines below.

Female grouse with broods have a home range of approximately 30 acres (11 hectares). The ranges of neighboring grouse do not overlap more than about 5 acres (2 hectares). Therefore a landowner with less than 30 acres cannot feasibly manage for grouse unless he or she can take advantage of neighboring fields or woods which they do not personally own. An owner with at least 30 acres can successfully manage for grouse and should consider how to deal with several different parts to grouse management. These different parts are: habitat management, predator control; and, where applicable, stocking.

HABITAT MANAGEMENT

Grouse require four different kinds of habitat to be successful. These are: conifer stands, hardwood stands, brush areas, and open fields.

To enhance conifer areas used by grouse for winter protection, a clearcut can be made and then seeded or replanted to trees. Fire can also be used to burn off hardwoods, and if it is used properly, a burn will leave conifers alive. Existing open areas can also be planted with conifers.

Either clearcutting or selection cutting can be used to promote hardwood growth. Clearcutting an old (50+ years) hardwood stand and allowing the stumps to sprout works well for enhancing resprouting. Also selecting certain trees and felling them to open up 30% of the overhead canopy allows hardwoods such as oaks to grow up into the opening.

Plant species found in brushy, open areas such as greenbriar, honeysuckle, grape, sheep sorrel, hawkweed, and blueberry are important grouse foods. Manage for them by making openings 0.5 - 1 acre in size every 600 feet in the forest. Prescribed burning or mowing can be used to keep the areas open. When clear-cutting for brushy areas, leave some tree tops on the ground as hiding and nesting cover for the grouse. Ideal stem density for a brushy area for grouse would be up to 1200 stems per acre. (When you stand and look all around you in a 5-foot radius circle, there should be, on average 3 stems in such areas.)

Work to provide (encourage, not destroy, fertilize, etc.) the following foods:
Spring Foods Summer Foods Autumn Foods Winter Foods
sumac
shadbush
strawberry
insects
laurel
birch
catbriar
clover
blackberry
mulberry
hawthorn
cherry
dewberry
jewelweed
raspberry
partridge berry
apple
beech
birch
acorns
hawthorn
huckleberry/blueberry
dogwood
viburnum
sumac
grapes
birch
apple
clover
hornbeam
acorns
sumac
grapes
greenbriar
laurel
teaberry
honeysuckle

Open fields are important for the insect food that they provide grouse. Often open areas can be maintained along logging roads or along fencerows to take advantage of existing edges. Agricultural fields can also serve in this capacity even after they have been harvested.

In addition to the four types of cover, drumming logs are important and they should be provided for the grouse. When felling trees in hardwood stands, land- owners should leave logs at least 10 inches in diameter on the ground every 100 feet. Artificial /"logs" can be made from 4 rough-sawn pieces of lumber of about the same size. These trees should also be cut at least three feet off the ground to leave a lookout perch for the grouse. Other standing young timber should be within approximately 12 feet of the drumming log.

PREDATOR CONTROL

The second major part of grouse management is predation and competition control. Foxes and bobcats often take grouse. Skunks, opossums and raccoons often eat the eggs. Unless the numbers of predators are extremely high there is no need to attempt to manage predators. Predator control is expensive and often ineffective. It is generally believed by most ecologists that predators do not regulate their prey populations anyway. If, however, the numbers of bobcats, foxes, skunks, raccoons, and opossums are causing the grouse to disappear, some control may be necessary. Trapping and relocating these animals is an effective technique. These animals may be shot when legal. High hunting pressure has not been shown to have a negative effect on grouse populations, therefore once a population is established, legal hunting pressure and techniques can be allowed with no detrimental effects.

STOCKING

If a suitable area for grouse exists and no grouse are there, stocking is a viable option. Hand-reared birds should not be used since they are tame. Grouse should be taken from the same region as the one into which they will be introduced.

Research for the management of game species is an ongoing project. Any application of the techniques contained herein will result in varying results. Therefore it makes good management sense to record any results (such as numbers of grouse sighted) and use them to compare one year to the next. Comments or results that can improve management are welcomed.

A contribution of Aaron Claxton (1996), Department of Fisheries and Wildlife Sciences, Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University, Blacksburg, Virginia 24061-0321 Later addition:

  1. DeStefano, S.; Rusch, D.H. 1984. Characteristics of ruffed grouse drumming sites in northeastern Wisconsin. Transactions of the Wisconsin Academy of Sciences, Arts and Letters. 72: 177-182.
  2. Gudlin, M.J.; Dimmick, R.W. 1984. Habitat utilization by ruffed grouse transplanted from Wisconsin to west Tennessee. In: Robinson, W.L., ed.; Ruffed grouse management: state of the art in early 1980’s. Syposium proceedings, 45th Midwest Fish and Wildlife Conference; 1983 December 5-7; St. Louis, Mo. Bloomington, IN: Wildlife Society and Ruffed Grouse Society, North Central Section: 75-88.
  3. Gullion, G.W.; King, R.T.; Marshall, W.H. 1962. Male ruffed grouse and thirty years of forest management on the Cloquet Forest Research Center, Minnesota. Journal of Forestry. 60: 617-622.
  4. Hunyadi, B.W. 1984. Ruffed grouse restoration in Missouri. In: Robinson, W.L., ed.; Ruffed grouse management: state of the art in early 1980’s. Symposium proceedings, 45th Midwest Fish and Wildlife Conference; 1983 December 5-7; St. Louis, MO. Bloomington, IN: Wildlife Society and Ruffed Grouse Society, North Central Section: 151-168.
  5. Marzluff, J.M.; Millspaugh, J.J.; ceder, K.R.; Oliver, C.D.; Withey, J.; McCarter, J.B.; Mason, C.L.; Comnick, J. 2002. Modeling changes in wildlife habitat and timber revenues in response to forest management. Forest Science. 48:191-202.
  6. Rodewald, A.D.; Vitz, A.C. 2005. Edge- and area- sensitivity of shrubland birds. Journal of Wildlife Management. 69: 681-688.
  7. Rodgers, R.D. 1980. Ecological relationships of ruffed grouse in southwestern Wisconsin. Transactions of the Wisconsin Academy of Sciences, Arts and Letters. 68:97-105.
  8. Rusch, D.H.; DeStefano, S.; Reynolds, M.C.; Lauten, D. 2000. Ruffed grouse, (Bonasa umbellus). In: Poole, A.; Gill, F., eds. The Birds of North America. Vol. 13, No. 515. Philadelphia, PA: The Birds of North America, Inc. 28 p.
  9. Thompson, F.R., III; Fritzell, E.K. 1986. Fall foods and nutrition of ruffed grouse in Missouri. Transactions of the Missouri Academy of Science. 20: 45-48.
  10. Thompson, F.R., III; Fritzell, E.K. 1988. Ruffed grouse winter roost site preference and influence on energy demands. Journal of Wildlife Management. 52: 454-460.
  11. Thompson, F.R., III; Fritzell, E.K. 1989. Habitat use, home range, and survival of territorial male ruffed grouse. Journal of Wildlife Management. 53: 15-21.
  12. Woolf, A.; Norris, R.; Kube, J. 1984. Evaluation of ruffed grouse introductions in southern Illinois. In: Robinson, W.L., ed.; Ruffed grouse management: state of the art in the early 1980’s. Symposium proceedings, 45th Midwest Fish and Wildlife Conference; 1983 December 5-7; St. Louis, MO. Bloomington, IN: Wildlife Society and Ruffed Grouse Society, North Central Section: 59-74.


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Last revision January 17, 2000.