Red Grouse

Lagopus lagopus

37-42cm

Appearance

Larger than the Grey Partridge, this is a familiar game bird. It's bulky with a small head, a short black tail and a subtle hooked tip on its bill. Males and females have uniformly dark upperwings with white flashes underneath, and their legs have off-white feathers. The neck stretches out when the bird is alert. The sexes are similar but there are some differences; the male is chestnut-brown, though his plumage dulls in the summer, and he has a red wattle above his eye. The female is paler and more grey, though her plumage has a marble effect which makes for effective camouflage. Juvenile birds are similar to the female but with less distinct plumage.

Habitat

Can be found in Britain in the uplands of the north and west, and there's a small number in Ireland. It prefers to be in heather moorland with few trees, though it also favours upland bog and occasionally some coastal heaths.

Character

While not an anxious bird, it is territorial when nesting, and at other times it will take flight rapidly if alarmed; when flying, its wings alternate between a quick whirring movement and gliding.

Food

Predominately finds food on the ground, though can move up to trees in winter. Diet consists mostly of vegetable matter, particularly shoots of Ling, but including heather and moorland plants. This bird also eats invertebrates such as crane flies.

Breeding

Male has an elaborate displaying routine; he calls and puffs his feathers. His wings droop and he holds his tail rigidly against his back while moving with a stilted walk. He takes off almost vertically and while calling, drifts to the ground on curved wings. The female lays 6-9 eggs in late April or May; she is the sole incubator, but the male remains nearby. Young birds are active and able to feed themselves soon after hatching and their flight feathers grow quickly; after 11-12 days they can fly, though they remain with their family for 6-8 weeks.

Population

The Red Grouse is resident in Britain and Ireland, and they are fairly sedentary; males may travel up to 1.5km and females no farther than 8km in their lifetime. 230 000 pairs breed in the UK with a further 1000 - 2500 in Ireland.

Observation Tips

It shouldn't be too much of a challenge to discover these birds in heather moorland, especially in northern England and Scotland. Despite being territorial, the males often tolerate observation surprisingly well.

Voice

If it's disturbed, the Red Grouse may make a sharp 'kwok, lok-ok, ok' call, otherwise it utters a loud, low 'go-back, back, back'.
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