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May 7

Capercaillie Lekking Season

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"The Capercaillie Most delightful wood grouse Striding so graceful"

~ The Capercaillie, James Fraser, 2009

Capercaillies, also known as woodgrouse, are the wild equivalents of turkeys. The large males are known for their loud unusual calling and their aggressive, fearless behaviour during courtship seasons and will often attack anything that moves, including people and cars! 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 (though still endangered today). The male Capercaillie's ritualistic courtship display is called a "lek" (meaning dance). The cocks perform for the females at lekking sites, attempting to impress and obtain the best territory. As the females only choose with the cock which has the best territory, lekking is efffectively a serious winner-takes-all dance contest. Eating their favorite food, bilberries, 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!