Ruffed grouse (Bonasa umbellus; hereafter, grouse) populations in the central and southern Appalachians are experiencing declines, which may be linked to deteriorating recruitment. Because nest success is an important component of recruitment, understanding the influence of habitat on nest success is important for developing regional grouse management strategies. Therefore, our objectives were to determine grouse nest success rates, characterize nest site selection, and identify habitat characteristics associated with successful nests in this region. From 1995 to 2002, we located 234 nests, of which 147 (63%) were successful (≥1 egg hatched). We characterized habitat at 167 of these nests and compared successful and unsuccessful nests using logistic regression and Akaike's Information Criterion (AIC). Similarly, we characterized nest site selection by pairing 73 nests with 1–8 nearby systematic sites and conducting a matched-pairs logistic regression followed by AIC. Eleven of 25 candidate models of nest success were supported; distance to a road or opening, ground cover, deciduous canopy cover, coarse woody debris, and basal area were increasingly important predictors of nest success. Increases in basal area, coarse woody debris, and deciduous canopy cover improved the odds of nest success. Alternatively, greater amounts of ground cover and increased distance to a road or opening decreased the odds of a nest being successful. The two supported models of habitat selection were basal area with coarse woody debris and basal area alone. Odds of a habitat being selected increased with both variables. Selection of these habitat elements likely reflects the tendency for females to nest at the base of large trees, stumps, or logs, which can reduce their exposure to predators and seems to improve nest success. Increased ground cover may reduce the female's ability to detect a predator and increase the susceptibility of a nest. We recommend managers ensure coarse woody debris is available for nest sites, particularly when logging operations (e.g., clearcuts, thinnings) remove a high proportion of the standing basal area.
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