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The capercaillie

Tetrao urogallus

Apart from any other characteristic, it is the Capercaillie’s, or wood grouse’s, bulk that makes it unmistakable. It can reach a total length of almost one metre and a wingspan of 1.3m. The difference between males and females - cocks and hens - is also very evident. The cock is very flamboyant; adults have dark, slate-grey body feathers, the breast feathers are blue or dark green metallic shining, whereas the wide tail has dark steering feathers with lighter spots. When the bird is resting, a white spot on the corner of the wing can be seen. The beak is large and ivory-coloured; there is a bright red spot of naked skin above each eye. The hen’s reddish-brown colouring, with a chestnut-red breast and dark beak, serves as camouflage. Capercaillies live in large woodlands, particularly in mature, humid and cool conifer forests, interspersed with clearings and dense undergrowth. Despite its large size, it is very good at hiding and, when forced, will take off noisily. During the winter, it mostly eats conifer needles, whereas in the spring it will feed on young leaves, larch cones and shoots, as well as on the shoots of beech, hazel and birch. From the rich food supply in the summer and autumn, it chooses rhododendron leaves, the green twigs of bilberries, berries and fruit.
The capercaillie
 
The capercaillie

Reproduction

Capercaillies are polygamous, and the cocks will begin to visit their habitual courting grounds for their courtship display (which in German is called “Balz”) in February, increasing their visits in April. These grounds are usually isolated places and frequented by few males, often only by a single cock, but they are visited by various hens. The call, which is usually heard at dawn or dusk, is emitted when the bird is on the ground or on a conifer and can be heard up to 100m distance. During the call, the cock takes up a particular position (with his neck pointed upwards, the wings lowered and the tail raised and opened like a fan) and reaches a level of excitement that makes him insensitive to anything else around him. This is very risky behaviour, exposing the bird, apart from other dangers, to being hunted by man. A particular strange sound emitted by the cock resembles a cork being drawn from a bottle. The hens arrive on the courting ground and, after having incited the “singers”, are courted and fertilized. The nest is made at the end of April, usually at the base of young conifers. Seven to nine eggs are laid in May and the chicks will hatch after about twenty-eight days. They are independent at the age of four to five months.
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