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CAPERCAILLIE - Tetrao urogallus

 

The Capercaillie is the largest of the grouse family, a very rare and elusive bird.  About the size of a turkey they live in the ancient Caledonian pine forests and feed off the pine needles and new shoots of heather.  They must eat grit to enable them to digest this diet.  Like the black grouse they also lek with other male birds to compete for the affections of the female, however unlike the Black Grouse the Capercaillie Lek is much more aggressive their big powerful bills could easily mortally wound another bird.

 

RSPB Advice on watching capercaillie

The capercaillie is listed on Schedule 1 of the Wildlife & Countryside Act 1981. This makes it illegal to intentionally disturb birds when nesting.

The RSPB provides opportunities to watch capercaillies lekking from its Osprey Centre at RSPB Abernethy Forest nature reserve, Strathspey, during April and May. Telephone 01479 821409. Away from here, capercaillie leks should not be visited at all during the crucial April-May period.

Capercaillies can be easier to see in autumn (from September), as there are usually more birds once juveniles have fledged.

Capercaillies are less disturbed by vehicles than by walkers; if you have vehicular access to a forest, remain inside with the engine switched off and observe birds quietly until they have moved back into the forest.

Use well-defined tracks and paths, to which birds will often come in search of grit. Do not wander in heather and blaeberry/bilberry, especially between May and August when nesting hens and young birds may be present. Flushing them can split up broods, exposing them to predators, or cause birds to fly into fences. Every year, deer fences kill an estimated quarter of juvenile capercaillies.

For the best chance of seeing capercaillies, book with a reputable Scottish wildlife tour company, which may have special arrangements with private estates and experience of showing capercaillies to visitors.