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Capercaillie numbers increase in Speyside

A group of Capercaillie experts and enthusiasts have been visiting two Highland estates to find out why numbers of the rare species are increasing in the face of serious declines in other parts of Scotland. Earlier this month, the Friends of Capercaillie were invited to visit Inshriach Forest, owned by Forestry Commission Scotland, and the privately owned Glenfeshie Estate. Across Scotlandthe only place in Britain where Capercaillie are foundthere are thought to be fewer than 1,300 of these magnificent turkey-sized birds remaining. Nationally they appear to be declining still further in their former strongholds such as Deeside, but the Speyside population is holding up well and even increasing on some sites, in spite of 'challenging' summer weather that affects productivity.

Only 9 lekking cocks were counted in 2006, but lek counts this year reported 33 cocks across Inshriach and at Glenmore, the Commission's other forest in the area. Graeme Prest, who manages Forestry Commission Scotland's Inverness, Ross & Skye District, said: "Numbers in Inshriach have increasedand the increase is impressive considering the big declines over much of the rest of the range. Something appears to being working well here for Capercaillieand we were keen to show the 'Friends' what we have been doing and the impact it appears to be having. Much of that success seems to come down to the fact that we are learning how to manage our multi-purpose Scots pine forests in ways that allow us to strike a balance between the needs of Capercaillie and the demands of timber production and recreation. It's a fairly new way of working that demonstrates that, with careful planning, Capercaillie populations can thrive in forests that produce timber. It appears to have achieved some very positive results. There is still work to do but we hope the Friends will get some ideas of what measures might be taken in other areas to try to help reverse the decline of caper populations."




The Capercaillie -Tetrao urogallus - also known as the Wood Grouse, Heather Cock or Western Capercaillie , is the largest member of the grouse family. The largest known specimen, recorded in captivity, had a weight of 7.2 kg. (15.9 lbs). It is a sedentary species, breeding across northern parts of Europe and western and central Asia in mature conifer forests.


Male and female can easily be differentiated by their size and colouration. The male bird is much bigger than the female. The larger wild cocks can attain a length of 100 cm (39 in) and weight of 6.7 kg (15 lb). The body feathers are coloured dark grey to dark brown, while the breast feathers are dark metallic green. The belly and undertail coverts vary from black to white depending on race.

The hen is much smaller, weighing about half as much as the cock. Feathers on the upper parts are brown with black and silver barring, on the underside they are more light and buffish-yellow.

Both sexes have a white spot on the wing bow. They have feathered legs, especially in the cold season for protection against cold. Their toe rows of small, elongated horn tacks provide a snowshoe.

There is a bright red spot of naked skin above each eye. The small chicks resemble the hen in their cryptic colouration, which is a passive protection against predators. They have black crown feathers.


The Capercaillie is a highly specialized herbivore.They mainly feed on Vaccinium species, especially blueberry. Food types include buds, leaves, insects, grasses and in the winter mostly conifer needles.


The courting season of the Capercaillie starts according to spring weather progress, between March and April and lasts until May or June. Three-quarters of this long courting season is mere territorial competition between neighbouring cocks or cocks on the same courting ground. Hens arrive at the leks at the end of  the courting season. About three days after copulation the hen starts laying eggs. Within 10 days the clutch is full, the average clutch size is eight eggs but may amount up to 12, rarely only four or five eggs. The subsequent breeding lasts about 26–28 days according to weather and altitude. At an age of 3–4 weeks they are able to perform their first short flights, from this time on they start to sleep in trees in warm nights. At an age of about 6 weeks they are fully able to maintain their body temperature.

Conservation Status – Least Concern

The Scottish population became extict, but has been reintroduced from the Swedish population. In Germany it is on the "Red list" as a species threatened by extinction. The most serious threats to the species are habitat degradation, particularly conversion of diverse native forest into often single-species timber plantations.


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