Grouse species in Europe


Scientific name: Tetrao urogallus Linnaeus 1758
Common names: Capercaillie English
Grand tétras French
Auerhuhn German

female male

Conservation Status
IUCN 2003 ( Lower risk (near threatened).
CITES 2003 ( not listed in Appendices.
EU Birds Directive: Annex I, Annex II/2, Annex III/2

Eurasia. Contiguous distribution in the boreal forest from Scandinavia to eastern Siberia; the south-western part of the range in western and central Europe is fragmented primarily due to the patchy distribution of montane conifer forests and secondarily due to habitat loss.

Population Size and Trend in Europe
The capercaillie still occupies most of its original range, although serious declines in western and central Europe have resulted in local extinctions. In central Europe, many populations have disappeared. Most of the remaining ones are small (<100 birds) and isolated. In general, the species is listed as threatened in western, central, and south-eastern Europe, but still occurs in considerable numbers throughout most of its boreal range.

Habitat and Ecology
The capercaillie is adapted to boreal climax forests. Its primary habitat is a landscape dominated by old-growth forest intermixed with bogs and patches of younger successional stages following natural disturbance such as wind-blow, snow-break, and fire. Capercaillie habitats are characterised by coniferous trees, open structure with moderate canopy cover, and rich ground vegetation dominated by bilberry Vaccinium myrtillus and other ericaceous shrubs. The birds feed almost exclusively on conifer needles in winter but on leaves, buds, flowers, fruits of various herbs and shrubs in summer. Young capercaillie chicks rely on invertebrates, especially caterpillars on Vaccinium. In the temperate zone, e.g. in central Europe, Capercaillie habitats are restricted to montane regions. The capercaillie is often referred to as an indicator species of healthy old forest communities in montane and boreal ecosystems.

Hunting and Cultural Importance
The capercaillie has a long history as a game bird. In central Europe, the capercaillie has received particular attention as a highly-valued hunting trophy. Since the 1970s, capercaillie hunting has been restricted or banned in all western and central European countries. In its central European strongholds, the capercaillie has been a traditional element of local folklore until the present day.

Principal Threats
  • Habitat degradation. As a habitat specialist, the Capercaillie is sensitive to changes in habitat structure, i.e. features at forest stand level. Due to its large spatial requirements the Capercaillie is also susceptible to changes at the landscape scale, such as forest fragmentation. In central Europe, capercaillie abundance was highest at times when human land-use practices, e.g. collection of forest litter and cattle grazing, favoured open forest structures. During the past decades, increasing standing timber volumes throughout central Europe were paralleled by declining capercaillie numbers.
  • Small population sizes. (esp. in western and central Europe) In western and central Europe, deterioration and fragmentation of habitats has resulted in isolated populations, many of which are now threatened by small size.
  • Increased Predation due to fragmentation
  • Disturbance by tourism and leisure activities
  • Collisions with wires and fences

[Storch, I. (2000): Grouse Status Survey and Conservation Action
Plan 2000 - 2004. WPA/BirdLife/SSC Grouse Specialist Group. IUCN,
Gland. Switzerland and Cambridge, UK and the World Pheasant
Association, Reading, UK., 112.]