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Capercaillie Lekking Season
"The Capercaillie cracks the lek and strums
The throttle of his precious range; he arcs
His back with neck full-stretched and utters threats
To the intruding stranger, without fear
Or prejudice to bird or beast or man"
~ Capercaillie, Ivor Bundell, 2015
This poem pays tribute to the strikingly beautiful, but crazily aggressive woodgrouse who will fearlessly attack anything that moves during courtship season, including people and cars! Derived from the Gaelic "capull coille", meaning "horse of the woods," these handsome birds (the wild equivalent of the American turkeys) are known for their beautiful plumage and loud unusual calls! Generally found in coniferous forests in central Asia and temperate, northern Europe, they became extinct in Scotland in 1785 though reintroduced successfully 100 years later. The male Capercaillie's ritualistic courtship display is called a "lek". The cocks perform their lek dances for the females at lekking sites, attempting to impress and obtain the best territory. As the females only choose the cock with the best territory, lekking is effectively a winner-takes-all dance contest! Eating their favorite food, bilberries during this time, make the males very aggressive, so watch out!
Capercaillies, also known as woodgrouse, are the wild equivalents of turkeys. Males are known for their create quit loud calling and aggressive, fearless behaviour during courtship (called "lekking" and will attack anything that moves, including people or cars!
Like peacocks, there are differences between the female hens and male cocks known as sexual dimorphism. The hen is roughly twice as small as the cock and she does not have the elaborate tail fan that the male possesses.
Capercaillie is Gaelic for ‘forest horse’ perhaps due to their unusual vocal abilities. During spring, the male Capercaillie's call mimics the sound of dripping water. During courtship the males make a wheezing, gurgling sound and particular sound which reminds many of the popping of the cork on of a bottle of wine. The songs of the Capercaillie are among the loudest of any species. A ‘singing’ capercaillie becomes deaf briefly; there’s a mechanism to prevent its hearing from being damaged by the intense sound!
The females on the other hand emit a more subdued clucking.
In the late 18th Century Capercaillies became extinct in Britain because of deforestation and over-hunting. A reintroduction project was started in Scotland in the 1830s to restore a wild population using birds brought in from Sweden. Presently in Scotland there are roughly a thousand left in the wild.
Capercaillies have quite a varied diet that reflects their adaptability. Leaves, insects, berries and grasses make up the bulk of their food. In winter time, they devote their time feeding on conifer needles and buds in trees. To aid digestion they make use of stones called gastroliths which help to grind down the food.
The fact that the birds consume a large amount of bilberries, is theorized to account for their extremely high levels of testosterone and their aggressive behaviour shown during courtship.
To view the results of all these bilberries, click the lekking Capercaillie for a viral video of a Capercaillie aggressing a Swedish reporter on the side of a highway!