Black grouse

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Black grouse
Black Grouse Nationalpark Bayerischer Wald.jpg
Bird recorded in Fife, Scotland
Scientific classification Red Pencil Icon.png
Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Chordata
Class: Aves
Order: Galliformes
Family: Phasianidae
Genus: Lyrurus
L. tetrix
Binomial name
Lyrurus tetrix
Linnaeus, 1758
Black Grouse Lyrurus tetrix distribution map.png
Black grouse range [2]
Black Grouse Lyrurus tetrix distribution in Europe map.png
Distribution in Europe. [2]
Synonyms [3]
  • Tetrao tetrix

The black grouse, northern black grouse, Eurasian black grouse, blackgame, or blackcock (Lyrurus tetrix), [4] is a large game bird in the grouse family. It is a sedentary species, spanning across the Palearctic in moorland and steppe habitat when breeding, often near wooded areas. They will spend the winter perched in dense forests, feeding almost exclusively on the needles of conifers. The black grouse is one of 2 species of grouse in the genus Lyrurus , the other being the lesser-known Caucasian grouse.


The female is greyish-brown and has a cackling or warbling call. She takes all responsibility for nesting and caring for the chicks, as typical with most galliforms.

The black grouse's genome was sequenced in 2014. [5]

Taxonomy and naming

The black grouse is one of the many species first described in the 10th edition of Systema Naturae in 1758 by Carl Linnaeus, and still bears its original binomial name. Both Tetrao and tetrix come from Ancient Greek words referring to some form of game bird. [6]

The male and female are sometimes referred to by their folk names, blackcock and greyhen, respectively. These names first occur in the literature with John Ray in 1674. [7] Heathcock and Heathhen are also common names. [8]


Seven subspecies of black grouse are recognized. Black grouse populations differ slightly in size and coloration, with birds increasing in size further east of their range: [9]

Description and appearance

The black grouse is a large bird with males measuring roughly around 60 centimetres (24 in) in length and weighing 1,100–1,250 grams (2.43–2.76 lb), sometimes up to 2,100 grams (4.6 lb), with females approximately 45 cm (18 in) and weighing 750–1,100 grams (1.65–2.43 lb). [10] The cock's fancy plumage is predominantly black with deep-blue hues on his neck and back, which contrasts the white wingline and undertail coverts, as well as red bare skin above each eye. On the other hand, the hen is much drabber and cryptically-colored to blend in easily with the dense undergrowth, especially when nesting. The black grouse, along with the Caucasian grouse, has long outer rectrices (tail feathers) that curl outward and arranged in a way it resembles the frame of a Greek lyre, hence the genus name, Lyrurus.

Black grouse cock displaying

Distribution and habitat

Black grouse can be found on open habitats across Europe (Swiss-Italian-French Alps specially) from Great Britain (but not Ireland) through Scandinavia, Estonia and across Russia. In Eastern Europe they can be found in Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Belarus, Romania and Ukraine. There is a population in the Alps, and isolated remnants in Germany, France, Belgium and the Netherlands. [11] It formerly occurred in Denmark, but the Danish Ornithological Society (DOF) has considered it extinct since 2001. The species disappeared from Bulgaria in the 19th century. [12] In Asia, a huge portion of their population can be found in Russia (particularly southern Siberia), though they also inhabit parts of Kazakhstan, Mongolia, China, and possibly Korea. [13]

Black grouse are adapted to a extensive array of habitats across Eurasia, though most frequently utilize the transitionary zones between forests and open clearings, especially steppe, heathland, grassland and pasture when near agricultural fields. Depending on the season, they will overwinter in large flocks in dense forests, and feed primarily on the leaves and buds of coniferous and broadleaf trees, such as Scots pine, Siberian larch, silver birch, and Eurasian aspen. Throughout the spring and summer, they tend to favor open spaces to seek potential mates and raise broods, switching their diet to berries, shoots and stems of cranberries, bog bilberries, myrtleberries, and other Vaccinium shrubs. [14] They avoid the most extreme of desert and polar regions.

Conservation status

Although this species has declined throughout most of its range in western Europe, it is not considered to be vulnerable globally due to the large population (global estimate is 15–40 million individuals) and slow rate of decline. [1] Its decline is due to loss of habitat, disturbance, predation by foxes, crows, etc., and small populations gradually dying out.[ citation needed ]

The IUCN implemented a Black Grouse Action Plan 2007–2010. This has looked at local populations that are vulnerable to the extinction vortex. For example, in Styria, Austria.[ citation needed ]

In the United Kingdom black grouse are found in upland areas of Wales, the Pennines and most of Scotland. Best looked for on farmland and moorland with nearby forestry or scattered trees. They have traditional lek sites where the males display.[ citation needed ]

They have declined in some parts of the UK (especially England), having disappeared from many of their former haunts. They are now extirpated in Lancashire, Derbyshire, Exmoor, East Yorkshire, New Forest, Nottinghamshire, Worcestershire, Quantock Hills, Cornwall, Dartmoor, Kent, Wiltshire and Surrey.[ citation needed ]

A programme to re-introduce black grouse into the wild started in 2003 in the Upper Derwent Valley area of the Peak District in England. 30 grouse were released in October 2003, followed by 10 male grouse in December 2004 and a further 10 males and 10 females in April 2005. The programme is being run jointly by the National Trust, Severn Trent Water and Peak District National Park.[ citation needed ]

Conservation groups helping to revive the black grouse include the RSPB and the Game & Wildlife Conservation Trust.[ citation needed ]

In France there has been much work regarding the birds and their risk of flying into ski-lifts. [15]

From 1950-2000, local black grouse populations have steadily diminished in Manchuria and northeastern China by about 39%, with birds being most affected (and possibly extirpated) in the Jilin Province. Though the exact causes for local declines remain largely unclear, habitat loss and excess hunting have played a part in the overall reduction. Additionally, climate change might have modified the range and densities of black grouse. Shifts in their location, however, can happen concurrently with the depletion over decades, so short-term research projects may not provide much proof of driving forces behind population alterations. [16]

Based on historical info gathered from various sources (including wildlife surveys and scientific papers), aspen, birch, and poplar make up the black grouse's staple diet and habitat. The climate and precipitation during the month of June is also linked to the breeding success of black grouse. [16]

Breeding and nesting

Egg of Tetrao tetrix tetrix - MHNT Tetras lyre MHNT.jpg
Egg of Tetrao tetrix tetrix - MHNT

Black grouse have a very distinctive and well-recorded courtship ritual. Every dawn in the spring, male grouse begin competition with other males in hopes of attracting a hen to mate with. They will display to signal their territory and vigor by fanning out their elaborate lyre-shaped tails and inflating their necks on designated open ground called a lek. Their song consists of a long, dove-like bubbling coo or murmur. Black grouse hens visiting the lek decide the overall healthiest male, though not all females may arrive at every lek.

In western Europe, these leks seldom contain more than 40 birds; in Russia, 150 is not uncommon and 200 have been recorded. [11]

When mated successfully, she will fly away from the site to a suitable nesting site with an abundance of dense shrub or tall vegetation, often located at a tree base in between roots, under low branches, beside a boulder, or extremely rarely, a used raptor's or corvid's nest 7 metres (23 ft) off the ground. A dent (23–28 centimetres (9.1–11.0 in) wide by 10–11 centimetres (3.9–4.3 in) deep) is scraped out on the dirt floor and cushioned with grasses, sticks, leaves, and feathers. About 6-11 pale buff eggs speckled brown are then laid in the nest, incubated for approx. 23-28 days. The chicks consume invertebrates, transitioning to more plant matter as they mature. By around 10-14 days and so forth, they are capable of short flights. [17]

Where their range overlaps in similar biomes of other species, they are capable of hybridizing with the ringneck pheasant, western capercaillie, black-billed capercaillie, Siberian grouse, hazel grouse, and willow ptarmigan. [4]

Relationship to humans

The black grouse in the coat of arms of Tuusniemi Tuusniemi.vaakuna.svg
The black grouse in the coat of arms of Tuusniemi

The tails of black-cocks have, since late Victorian times, been popular adornments for hats worn with Highland Dress. Most commonly associated with Glengarry and Balmoral or Tam o' Shanter caps, they still continue to be worn by pipers of civilian and military pipe bands. Since 1904, all ranks of the Royal Scots and King's Own Scottish Borderers have worn them in their full-dress headgear and that tradition is carried on in the dress glengarries of the current Scottish super regiment, the Royal Regiment of Scotland.[ citation needed ]

Related Research Articles

Grouse Subfamily of birds

Grouse are a group of birds from the order Galliformes, in the family Phasianidae. Grouse are frequently assigned to the subfamily Tetraoninae or tribe Tetraonini, a classification supported by mitochondrial DNA sequence studies, and applied by the American Ornithologists' Union, ITIS, and others. Grouse inhabit temperate and subarctic regions of the Northern Hemisphere, from pine forests to moorland and mountainside, from 83°N to 28°N.

Russian Far East Geographic region

The Russian Far East is a region in North Asia which is coextensive with Russia’s easternmost territory, the Far Eastern Federal District, which is between Lake Baikal in Eastern Siberia and the Pacific Ocean.

Willow ptarmigan Species of bird

The willow ptarmigan is a bird in the grouse subfamily Tetraoninae of the pheasant family Phasianidae. It is also known as the willow grouse and in Ireland and Britain, where the subspecies L. l. scotica was previously considered to be a separate species, as the red grouse. It is a sedentary species, breeding in birch and other forests and moorlands in northern Europe, the tundra of Scandinavia, Siberia, Alaska and Canada, in particular in the provinces of Newfoundland and Labrador and Quebec. It is the state bird of Alaska. In the summer the birds are largely brown, with dappled plumage, but in the winter they are white with some black feathers in their tails. The species has remained little changed from the bird that roamed the tundra during the Pleistocene. Nesting takes place in the spring when clutches of four to ten eggs are laid in a scrape on the ground. The chicks are precocial and soon leave the nest. While they are young, both parents play a part in caring for them. The chicks eat insects and young plant growth while the adults are completely herbivorous, eating leaves, flowers, buds, seeds and berries during the summer and largely subsisting on the buds and twigs of willow and other dwarf shrubs and trees during the winter.

Western capercaillie Species of bird

The western capercaillie, also known as the Eurasian capercaillie, wood grouse, heather cock, cock-of-the-woods, or simply capercaillie, is a heavy member of the grouse family and the largest of all extant grouse species. The heaviest-known specimen, recorded in captivity, had a weight of 7.2 kilograms. Found across Europe and the Palearctic, this primarily-ground-dwelling forest grouse is renowned for its courtship display. This bird shows extreme sexual dimorphism, with males nearly twice the size of females. The global population is listed as "least concern" under the IUCN, although the populations of Central Europe are declining and fragmented, or possibly extirpated.

Greater sage-grouse Species of bird

The greater sage-grouse, also known as the sagehen, is the largest grouse in North America. Its range is sagebrush country in the western United States and southern Alberta and Saskatchewan, Canada. It was known as simply the sage grouse until the Gunnison sage-grouse was recognized as a separate species in 2000. The Mono Basin population of sage grouse may also be distinct.

Gunnison grouse Species of bird

The Gunnison grouse or Gunnison sage-grouse is a species of grouse endemic to the United States. It is similar to the closely related greater sage-grouse in appearance, but about a third smaller in size, with much thicker plumes behind the head; it also has a less elaborate courtship dance. It is restricted in range to southwestern Colorado and extreme southeastern Utah, with the largest population residing in the Gunnison Basin region in Colorado. Despite being native to a country where the avifauna is relatively well known, it was overlooked until the 1990s due to the similarities with the sage grouse, and only described as a new species in 2000—making it the first new avian species to be described from the USA since the 19th century. The description of C. minimus as a separate species is supported by a molecular study of genetic variation, showing that gene flow between the large-bodied and the small-bodied birds is absent.

Ruddy shelduck Species of bird

The ruddy shelduck, known in India as the Brahminy duck, is a member of the family Anatidae. It is a distinctive waterfowl, 58 to 70 cm in length with a wingspan of 110 to 135 cm. It has orange-brown body plumage with a paler head, while the tail and the flight feathers in the wings are black, contrasting with the white wing-coverts. It is a migratory bird, wintering in the Indian subcontinent and breeding in southeastern Europe and central Asia, though there are small resident populations in North Africa. It has a loud honking call.

Hazel grouse Species of bird

The hazel grouse, sometimes called the hazel hen, is one of the smaller members of the grouse family of birds. It is a sedentary species, breeding across the Palearctic as far east as Hokkaido, and as far west as eastern and central Europe, in dense, damp, mixed coniferous woodland, preferably with some spruce. The bird is sometimes referred to as "rabchick" by early 20th century English speaking travellers to Russia.

Caucasian grouse Species of bird

The Caucasian grouse or Caucasian black grouse is a large bird in the grouse family. It is closely related to the black grouse.

East Siberian taiga

The East Siberian taiga ecoregion, in the Taiga and boreal forests biome, is a very large biogeographic region in eastern Russia.

Siberian grouse Species of bird

The Siberian grouse, Siberian spruce grouse, Amur grouse, or Asian spruce grouse, is a short, rotund forest-dwelling grouse. A sedentary, non-migratory bird, it is similar to the spruce grouse and Franklin's grouse of North America, which all belong to the genus Falcipennis.

Black-billed capercaillie Species of bird

The black-billed capercaillie, eastern capercaillie, Siberian capercaillie, spotted capercaillie, or stone capercaillie, is a large grouse species closely related to the more widespread western capercaillie. It is a sedentary species which breeds in the larch taiga forests of eastern Siberia as well as parts of northern Mongolia and China. In the far west of its distribution, the black-billed capercaillie has been known to hybridize with the western capercaillie. Compared to its western cousin, the Siberian capercaillie is also more adaptable to open habitat, given the larch forests it lives in are usually less dense than other taiga communities. Thus, they tend to avoid thick coniferous forests.

Chestnut-necklaced partridge Species of bird

The chestnut-necklaced partridge is a species of bird in the family Phasianidae. It is found in forests in the Malay Peninsula, Sumatra and Borneo. It is threatened by habitat loss and trapping. The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) has assessed it as vulnerable.

Red-breasted partridge Species of bird

The red-breasted partridge, also known as the Bornean hill-partridge, is a species of bird in the family Phasianidae. It is endemic to hill and montane forest in Borneo, preferring bamboos and thickets. The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) has assessed it as a least-concern species.

Blue quail Species of bird

The blue quail or African blue quail is a species of bird in the family Phasianidae. It is found in Sub-Saharan Africa.

Black-eared wood quail Species of bird

The black-eared wood quail is a bird species in the order Galliformes. Until recently, the species was thought to be part of the family Phasianidae however DNA-DNA hybridization results determined that black-eared wood quail are only distantly related to Old World quail. As a result, black-eared wood quail have been placed in the family Odontophoridae and more specifically, in the category of wood quail.

Altai snowcock Species of bird

The Altai snowcock is a species of bird in the family Phasianidae. It is found in western Mongolia and adjacent areas of China, Kazakhstan and Russia. Its natural habitat is boreal forests.

Comoros blue pigeon Species of bird

The Comoros blue pigeon is a species of bird in the family Columbidae. It is endemic to the Comoros and the coralline Seychelles. It is rated as a species of near threatened on the International Union for Conservation of Nature Red List of Endangered Species.

The Wetar ground dove is a species of bird in the family Columbidae found on Wetar, Indonesia and Timor. Its natural habitats are monsoon forests and gallery forests, and possibly woodland and bamboos. Threatened by habitat loss and hunting, the species is assessed as endangered by the IUCN.

The Cantabrian capercaillie is a subspecies of the western capercaillie in the grouse family Tetraonidae. It is one of two subspecies found in Spain.


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