Capercaillie, RSPB article

Over the last two decades, the magnificent capercaillie has declined rapidly throughout Scotland. A national survey during the winter of 1998 produced an estimate of approximately 1100 birds – half the number found in the previous survey five years earlier! If the decline continues at this rate, the species could be extinct within ten years. This is an astonishing prospect, given that the Scottish population was estimated to have been in the region of 20,000 birds during the 1970s. It is now thought that fewer than 1000 birds remain in Scotland.

29th Oct 08

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Poor breeding success has been the proximate cause of this decline, possibly caused by climate-induced changes to food availability at crucial times in the breeding cycle. However, this situation has been greatly compounded by other factors, such as over-grazing of chick habitat and high death rates of capercaillie flying into forest fences. Crows and foxes, key predators of capercaillie, and their chicks, have also increased over the last 20-30 years and are implicated in the decline. Unsympathetic forestry and increasing recreational activity have also probably contributed to the species demise in some forests.

However, much work is now underway to prevent capercaillie disappearing from Scotland’s forests. Managers of both private and public sector woodlands are implementing a wide range of measures and there has been particular success in reducing the threat posed by forest fences. Hundreds of kilometres of fencing have been removed, or marked to make them more visible to the birds.

Most of this current conservation work for capercaillie is aimed at trying to improve breeding success and this includes reducing disturbance. Capercaillie tend to avoid areas with high recreational pressure and recent research shows that capercaillie avoid tracks.

Walkers, runners and dog walkers using woods can disturb breeding capercaillie – particularly when they stray off forest tracks. Female capercaillie can get flushed from nests, or become separated from their broods, making the eggs and chicks vulnerable to predation. This clearly means that orienteering in certain woods during the breeding season can pose a threat to capercaillie breeding success.

Thankfully, this problem is easily resolved by careful planning of orienteering events. Donald Petrie of the Scottish Orienteering Association is currently working with the Capercaillie Project Officer to plan future events so that key capercaillie woods are avoided during the breeding season. Such cooperation, particularly over the next few crucial years for capercaillie, is vital if we are to continue seeing the world’s largest grouse in our Scottish forests.

For further details, contact:

Timothy Poole
Capercaillie Project Officer
(Funded by RSPB, SNH and FC)

Photo of authorPosted on 29th Oct 08
by Colin Matheson