The capercaillie is the largest member of the game bird family. It resides in the pinewoods of Scotland, but is occasionally found in mature oakwoods. Male capercaillie are mainly grey in colour and have reddish-brown wings with a white patch on the shoulder. The head, neck and breast are tinged with blue, and the eye is highlighted by a ring of red skin. Males also have a “beard,” most noticeable during courtship displays, and a long tail. Females have brown plumage with striations all over the body and a reddish-brown patch on the breast.
During breeding season, male capercaillie put on a flamboyant display known as a “lek”: with wings pointed down, tail flared and beard bristling, he emits a series of gurgles and wheezes interspersed with cork popping sounds. If there is more than one male nearby, fights can break out, sometimes causing serious injury and even death. Females lay between 5 and 12 eggs in a nest on the ground and look after the chicks, without the male, during the summer. These family units then join larger groups of birds in the autumn.
- Weight: 4.3kg (male),up to 2kg (female)
- Body length: 74-90cm
- Wingspan: 87-125cm
Classified in the UK as a red list species under the Birds of Conservation Concern review. Listed on the UK Biodiversity Action Plan (UKBAP) as a priority species and is on the Scottish Biodiverstiy List. They are protected under the Wildlife and Countryside Act (1981).
Found in the pinewoods of northern Scotland.
When to see
January – December
- All capercaillie in Scotland are from Swedish stock, as the species became extinct in Scotland in 1785. The population has halved in recent years and a variety of threats including habitat loss and fragmentation, birds flying into deer fencing and chick mortality due to wet and cool weather now face this species.
- The Gaelic name for this species, capall-coille, means ‘horse of the forest’