Capercaillie

Tetrao urogallus

60-90cm

Appearance

This is a very large, impressive bird with broad wings and tail. The male is much bigger than the female; he is similar to a turkey, with a pale bill and red wattle over his eye. He can appear completely dark from a distance, but closer there's a greenish sheen on his breast and his wings are glossy brown. He has white marks on his belly, beneath his tail, and in patches on his shoulders. He fans out and lifts his tail when displaying. The female is smaller with grey-brown plumage which is barred black; there's a reddish patch on the breast and her underparts are paler. Juvenile bird is like a small, dull female.

Habitat

Found predominately in the eastern Highlands of Scotland, it lives in the remainder of ancient Caledonian pine forests and a few other well-managed Scottish forests with mature trees and varied ground cover. Can live in deciduous woods in other parts of Europe.

Character

Even though it is a large, robust bird, this species can be evasive. It rests in pine trees or on forest floors, singly or in groups. Males use the lek, a gathering at dawn during spring, to attract females. The larger males usually mate with the most females and aggression is common between rival males. The Capercaillie's flying technique resembles other game birds – a series of quick flaps proceeded by a glide, and the neck is long and outstretched.

Food

Predominately vegetarian, this bird most often feeds on the ground. Its diet includes needles, buds and small cones from the Scots pine, other conifers and from juniper, and berries from plants such as bilberry. Young birds feed on insects when small.

Breeding

Nests are shallow scrapes in the ground, usually at the foot of a tree or in dense cover. After mating at the lek, males contribute nothing to the family; females incubate 7-11 eggs for 25 days. Young leave the nest early and are able to feed themselves. Within 2-3 weeks they're capable of flight when threatened, but they're not fully grown for 2-3 months, when they become independent.

Population

In Britain this bird does not migrate. There are approximately 1300 birds and the population has declined by 80% in the past 25 years.

Observation Tips

Unless visiting a traditional lekking site is an option, encounters can be a challenge. The forests on edge of the Cairngorms offer perhaps the best chance; birds may be feeding on the ground or perched in branches.

Voice

During lekking, males have a strange sequence of double clicks, followed by a loud 'pop' which is likened to the release of a champagne bottle cork.
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