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Management Of Scottish Woodlands

For Capercaillie (Tetrao urogallus)

by PAUL KING, Co. Durham, England


· The Capercaillie is the biggest grouse in the world, with the male weighing about 4kg and the female 2kg.

· The male is predominantly black and dark grey in colour, the female is a rich brown with an ‘orangey’ front.

· It is around the size of a turkey and lives in old world boreal zones- its range coinciding with that of its main food in winter, the Scots Pine.

· Extinct in Scotland during 17th century (last recorded 1785) due to deforestation combined with shooting and a period of bad weather- the ‘Little Ice-Age’.

· Reintroduced in 1830’s and population grew to 1,000-2,000 pairs by 1862.

· Current population less than 10,000 pairs and declining over last 20 years.


· Breeding takes place by "lekking" in which males gather in traditional locations to posture and fight for dominance to ensure a greater choice of mates. This occurs in late April and early March.

· The bird relies on habitat primarily like that of semi-natural Scots Pine forest but can also exist in mixtures of pine and other conifers.

· Capercaillie nests on the ground (May-June) but often feeds and roosts in the canopy.

· Winter food is predominantly pine needles and cones or the equivalent for its habitat.

· Summer food (vital to chicks) is largely based on ground vegetation such as blaeberry and heather, and their insect populations.

· The bird has three main population centres- Deeside, Speyside and Perthshire.

· Capercaillie requires around 300-400 ha per lek, and more than one lek is required to support a viable population. Leks usually occur every 2km or so in continuous habitat.



· As stated above, the bird requires areas of semi-natural or planted pine forest, but is tolerant of some mixture of species.

· The bird requires boggy areas which provide insect food for the chicks.

· Capercaillie needs good ground vegetation in which to nest and to provide a source of summer food and cover.

· The bird needs stands of conifers of non-uniform age and spatial distribution, providing a mosaic of habitat structures.

· Areas of fairly open vegetation are required for leks.



· Capercaillie decline in 18th century coincided with ‘Little Ice Age’ suggesting an intolerance of wet conditions.

· Research shows Capercaillie to be absent in areas where rainfall exceeds 100mm in June, with number of days of rain mattering more than total rainfall. (Moss, 1986)





Recent declines in Capercaillie populations have been attributed to the following main factors:

· Insufficient young have been reared and recruited into the populations of much of Scotland to retain their viability.

· Habitat deterioration has probably played a role. Many pine forests have had Scots Pine replaced with other species following clear felling rotations. Some have been replaced with fast-growing Sitka Spruce which shades out ground vegetation. Finally, felling of ancient "granny pines" has led to immediate losses in numbers locally.

· Breeding performance found to be generally poorer in plantations than in semi-natural pine forests, presumably because of shaded out ground flora through less thinning and tighter spacing.

· Red deer have increased in numbers, with predictable effects on ground flora.

· Possible increase in predators- reduction in keeper numbers.

· Increased effects of fence deaths on an already smaller population.

· Possibility of recent deterioration in weather having an effect.

In order to manage a stabilisation or recovery of Capercaillie in Scotland, it is obvious that all of the factors above must be taken into account.



The following should all be borne in mind when designing management strategies for Capercaillie:














Currently Managed by:

· Game Conservancy Council.

· Forestry Enterprises (Grant aided by Forestry Authority).

· RSPB (recent purchase of 1,500 ha at Corimony which is to become Caledonian forest within 50-100 years).



The RSPB ‘Birds’ Magazine

‘Management of Forests for Capercaillie in Scotland’ The forestry Commission’s Bulletin 113 by Robert

Moss and Nicholas Picozzi (1994)


Copyright Paul King, 1998

This work is reproduced here in its entirety and has only its format has been adjusted for the purposes of this page. Any enquiries arising from this document should be addressed to Paul King not the administrator of the site (please!).

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