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Western Capercaillie Fact File

Appearance

As with many bird the western capercaillie exhibits marked sexual dimorphism. The male and female appear incredibly different with males built to show off while females camouflage in their environment to keep them safe when nesting.

Males have dark black feathers across much of the head except for a bright red patch around the eye. The rounded wings are colored brown. On the tail the feathers are black and these can be raised while courting. The lower breast feathers have a greenish tinge.

Females by comparison are rather drab and have brown feathers across much of their body.

Capercaillies have feet which are covered with small horns that give them better grip. The legs are covered with feathers which keep them warm in their cool environment.

The beak of both males and females is whitish-grey in color.

Their body measures between 80 and 115cm (32-45in) long with an average weight between 4 and 4.5kg (8.25-10lbs) for males while females rarely exceed 2kg (4lbs). They have a wingspan of up to 1m (3.3ft).

Diet

The western capercaillie is a herbivore. Their diet includes pine needles, seeds, grasses and fruit.

Their diet is varied across the seasons. In summer they mostly forage on the ground but during winter they will take to the trees to gather shoots.

Chicks will feed on some insects.

To help digest their food they will ingest small stones known as gastroliths which help to grind up the tough plants that make up their diet. They also have a long digestive tract to assist this process.

western capercaillie

Scientific Name

Tetrao urogallus

Conservation Status

Least Concern

Weight

Male

4-4.5kg (8.25-10lbs)

Female

2kg (4lbs)

Length

80-115cm (32-45in)

Wingspan

1m (3.3ft)

Lifespan

18 years

Diet

Herbivorous

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Range

Europe and Asia is the native home of the western capercaillie. Here they can be found in the following countries – Albania, Andorra, Austria, Belarus, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Bulgaria, China, Croatia, Czechia, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Italy, Kazakhstan, Latvia, Liechtenstein, Lithuania, Mongolia, Montenegro, North Macedonia, Norway, Poland, Romania, Russia, Serbia, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland and the Ukraine.

The species is considered extinct in Ireland. They had gone extinct in the United Kingdom but have since been reintroduced here.

Habitat

These animals make their home in forest and woodlands. They tend to favor the shadiest areas with dense undergrowth. Other populations can be found in taiga and montane areas.

western capercaillie

Reproduction

The breeding season is highly variable by location. It tends to occur between April and May. Males may mate with multiple females during the breeding season.

Males gather together in congregations known as a lek. These groups will display for the females. During this display they tilt their bill towards the sky, puff out their neck feathers and strut around. This is accompanied by calls such as a gurgling or a cork-popping sound.

In to her nest the female will deposit between 5 and 11 eggs. Her nest is a shallow scrape in the ground within an area of thick cover. The eggs are incubated for between 24 and 26 days.

After hatching the chicks will follow the female around and can already feed. By two to three weeks old they can complete short flights and by two to three months old they are fledged.

Females are sexually mature by 1 year old with males delaying this to between 2 and 3 years old.

Behavior

Female and yearling capercaillies tend to move in small flocks while adult males are almost entirely solitary.

western capercaillie

Predators and Threats

Natural predators of the western capercaillie include birds of prey such as raptors and carrion crows and the red fox. Pine martens will feed on their eggs.

The main threat to the survival of the western capercaillie is the destruction or disturbance of its habitat. Collisions with powerlines and fences along with pollution present a further threat to their survival. This species is also hunted by humans.

An emerging threat is deer fencing which is a major issue for low-flying birds such as the capercaillie. Deer themselves also prove a threat as they compete with the western capercaillie for food.

Quick facts

The western capercaillie is the largest member of the grouse family.

Their common names come from the Gaelic capul coille which translates in to English as horse of the woods.

In Finnish folk myths it was said that is a capercaillie appeared in your yard it was predicting death.

western capercaillie

Photo Credits

Top

By Richard Bartz, Munich aka Makro Freak – Own work, CC BY-SA 2.5, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=2528922

Middle One

By Marton Berntsen – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=52667358

Middle Two

By Quartl – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=8470496

Bottom

By Joxerra Aihartza – Nire argazki bilduma / own picture, FAL, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=12891170

References

Burnie, D., 2011. Animal. 3rd ed. London: DK

Ambrose, J., 2015. Wildlife Of The World. 1st ed. London: Dorling Kindersley

Taylor, B. and Orr, R., 2021. The bird atlas. Great Britain: Dorling Kindersley.

Christiansen, P., 2019. Birds. London: Amber Books Ltd.

BirdLife International. 2016. Tetrao urogallus. The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species 2016: e.T22679487A85942729. https://dx.doi.org/10.2305/IUCN.UK.2016-3.RLTS.T22679487A85942729.en. Downloaded on 02 March 2021.

Hill, L. 2014. "Tetrao urogallus" (On-line), Animal Diversity Web. Accessed March 02, 2021 at https://animaldiversity.org/accounts/Tetrao_urogallus/

UPM Forest Life. 2021. Western capercaillie. [online] Available at: <https://www.upmforestlife.com/species/western-capercaillie> [Accessed 2 March 2021].

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