Capercaillie Lekking Season
Most delightful wood grouse
Striding so graceful"
~ The Capercaillie, James Fraser, 2009
These handsome woodgrouse (the wild equivalent of the American turkeys) may not seem so delightful during courtship season as they are known for their loud unusual calling and for the aggressive, fearless behaviour of males who 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 considered endangered). 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!