Birds, Ecology

Black Grouse — a last look?

When we first moved to Wales, someone told me that there were still black grouse on the Gorn Hill, East of Llanidloes — I have never seen one there. We have been to the Cairngorm mountains in Scotland to find them.

The females are grey, often called greyhens and keep themselves tucked away, camouflaged and out of sight in the rough.

The blackcocks have no such inhibitions during the mating season when they are seen in their traditional display grounds lekking — that’s the best time to spot them, posturing and showing off their spectacular plumage, strutting their stuff, tails flared, while calling with a bubbling pigeon-like coo. They meet on traditional grounds, clearings on tops of rises — here we were lucky enough to see about 8 males but there may have been more on the other side of the hill. We could view them with long lenses from a public road — a lot of the previous leks are so threatened that visitors are actively discouraged. This is about as far West as they live but the species is distributed in a wide swathe across Eurasia as far as China. In Russia leks can attract 200 males.

Here they are confronting each other in pairs, like a knock-out competition where the winner gets to mate with the females who have been watching from the scrub, assessing their strength and fitness to breed — not that they take any part in rearing or protecting their offspring! Once mated the females fly off and hideaway to hatch and rear their young alone. I wonder if some females select for intelligence and mate with the cunning young blackcock who sneaks around the margin of the lek and woos the greyhens while the macho males are busy trying to impress each other?

See Wimoglen video published on YouTube

From what we had been led to expect we felt very lucky to see black grouse this year — let’s hope it won’t be the last time.