Capercaillie

A bird of the Old World, capercaillie have been living in pine forests across Europe since the last Ice Age. The largest grouse species in the world, powered by pine needles and known in Gaelic as the Horse of the Woods; capercaillie are iconic. They are also critically endangered.

In the UK capercaillie are only found in Scotland and are part of a global population extending from Russia to Scandinavia, and the Black Forest to the Pyrenees.

Capable of reaching a grand old age of 10, male capercaillie can hold territories of up to 2km sq.

Each spring they attend lek sites in the forest to perform a display of pops, whistles and flutter jumps to attract the attention of females.

Lekking at first light

Poised in the branches on an April dawn, inquisitive hens gather to find a mate.

Drawn to a lek used by capercaillie for generations, they find themselves with two determined males to choose from.

Filmed under licence in the Cairngorms National Park, this forest scene is rare and at risk.

Female capercaillie usually lay around 8 eggs each May in a nest on the forest floor.

When breeding, females rely on woodland bogs to feed on cotton grass rich in protein.

Chicks will stay with their mother for up to four months, fed on a diet of insects which can be in short supply if we experience a wet spring.

Starvation, chilling and predation can all have an impact, typically causing only a single chick per brood to make it to adulthood.

A capercaillie nest
A capercaillie nest

Capercaillie chicks can fly within 2 to 3 weeks of hatching and are fully grown and independent of their mother by September.

In order not to compete for food and avoid inbreeding, young capercaillie will disperse from where they were born. Females will often travel further than males; if habitat is available they'll make a new start up to 30km away.

 

 

A capercaillie chick
A capercaillie chick