One of the larger members of the grouse family with seven sub-species, the black grouse, whilst categorised as vulnerable within Europe, is stable throughout its Asian areas of occupation.
Eurasian Black Grouse, Blackgame, Northern Black Grouse, and Blackcock
The adult male black grouse is a large gamebird with a cockerel shaped body, stout legs and a prominent bright red comb above each eye. The body of the male is a glossy black with a blue green sheen particularly on the neck and back. The black upperwing has a broad white contrasting wing bar extending from the tips of the primary coverts to the body. Undertail coverts are white with upper tail feathers black and curved outwards which are splayed further during courtship displays, exposing a large lyre shaped tail. The underwing area is mainly white and there is a prominent bold white spot on the shoulder. The adult female is a smaller build than the male and is mainly mid brown in colour with dark bars on the back, upperwings and tail. Upper wing flight feathers are dark brown with a white narrow wing bar and the end of the tail is ‘notched’ in the middle. The breast, belly and vent are a lighter brown with dark brown and white bars and the undertail is predominantly white. The head of the female is small and the bill short and slightly hooked.
Close up of a Black Grouse
Juvenile Black Grouse
During courtship rituals the male issues a rhythmic cooing noise which is repeated frequently and can be heard at a distance of over two miles. The female is mainly confined to a clucking sound similar to ‘kwuk – kwuk – kwuk’ or a gruff barking noise.
Female Black Grouse
In early Spring adult males congregate in an open area in which to show off courtship displays and engage in mock combat. These areas are also known as ‘leks’ and the verb, to lek, means to competitively display with other males in order to attract a female mate. During black grouse lekking, shy and solitary females hide in nearby undergrowth and watch the proceedings prior to making a choice or not, as the case may be!
While chicks eat insects, adult birds feed on a variety of shrubs, flowers, berries, shoots, tree buds, catkins, grasses, pine needles, leaves and seeds.
Black Grouse in flight
Black grouse are mainly sedentary and are found across Northern Eurasia from Norway south to the United Kingdom and central Europe, eastwards into Southeast Siberia, Mongolia and China and south to Kyrgyzstan and North Korea.
A pair of Black Grouse fighting
Mainly found on moorland or heaths and on the edges of woodland, at a distance the male can be mistaken for a Capercaillie although on closer inspection the latter is a much larger bird that lacks the grouse’s tail configuration, white wing bar and prominent over eye combs. The female is more difficult to distinguish from not only the capercaillie but also other species of grouse. At the start of the breeding season when lekking commences, males will often congregate in numbers from dawn and their mating calls can easily guide observers from some distance away.
Female Black Grouse
A hollow or scrape in the ground, often under bracken, heather, or at the fringes of forests, frequently with minimal lining, is used where a single clutch of 4 – 12 eggs is produced annually between April to July. The eggs are cream in colour with red brown spots and incubated for a period of up to four weeks by the female alone, before hatching. Chicks fledge after two weeks.
Black Grouse in mating season
Black Grouse with chick
One of the main causes of death for the black grouse is predation. Their lifespan is up to five years.
ResidentThe United Kingdom Italy France Austria Belarus Belgium Estonia Finland Greece Kazakhstan Latvia Liechtenstein Lithuania Netherlands Romania Russia Slovakia Slovenia Sweden Switzerland Ukraine Czechia Kyrgyzstan Russia Southern Russia
BreedingAlbania Croatia Germany Hungary Luxembourg Montenegro Norway Poland Serbia Turkey China Mongolia Canada United States of America