The capercaillie or heather cock, mythical bird of forests and mountains


An emblematic bird of landforms and forests, the capercaillie is easily recognized by its red eyelid and its black tail fan. Wild and cautious, the heather cock does not come to the ground than to eat, especially blueberries which he loves! Close-up on a gallinaceous species whose population is highly threatened in France.

Presentation of the capercaillie

The capercaillie (Tetrao urogallus), also called heather cock, is a bird belonging to the order of the galliformes and to the family of the phasianidae of which it is the bigger representative. In this species, an important sexual dimorphism is observed on the template : the male measures between 75 and 100 cm, weighs up to 4 kg and his wingspan can reach 130 cm. The size of the female is 55-65 cm, and her weight is 1.5-2.5 kg.

The capercaillie’s red wattles

In the capercaillie, the two sexes are also distinguished by very contrasted. With a massive head and neck, the male wears a caruncle bright red (fleshy growth) above the eye. Its beak is whitish, and the spiky throat feathers form a small beard. Its brown-black plumage is adorned with reflections greens and purples while a white spot stains its brown wings. Hatched with white, the feathers of its tail unfold like those of a turkey during courtship displays. More dull, the female has a brown livery and a reddish breast spotted with dark brown and black. Its beak is gray and its tail is red.

The heather rooster, bird of the mountains

The capercaillie lives in Europe and in Asia, in relief and wooded areas. It is preferably established in environments rich in conifers or mixed, as soon as these include a shrub layer rich in bhave, like the taiga. This mountain bird occupies the regions cold, located at the upper edge of the forests (between 700 and 2,200 meters above sea level) and looks for the slopes sunny or grows its food. During the breeding season, females will nest in open moors, near tall grassy areas where they can camouflage themselves.

Blueberries for the capercaillie

The briar rooster’s diet consists mainly of plants : buds of conifers and other species, pine needles, green leaves, seeds and especially berries because the gallinaceous is very fond of blueberries, cranberries and raspberries. In summer, the bird completes its menu with invertebrates : ants, beetles, worms, slugs, various insects and their larvae. During the first month of its life, the capercaillie is almost exclusively insectivorous before going vegetarian in the fall. Like many grain-eating avian species, it absorbs gravel to facilitate digestion.

The heather cock is not very sociable

Species diurnal, the capercaillie spends most of the day on the ground, rummaging through brush and humus for food. At night, it perches on a tree to sleep in the shelter of predators. The male, not very gregarious, lives mainly alone or in pairs, while the females gather in small groups of 3 to 7 individuals. In the breeding season, roosters show themselves territorial and aggressive, not hesitating to engage in violent fights between them. At the same time, the rivals meet in a specific place called a “place of song” where they indulge in the courtship ritual : whether they are two or thirty, each spreads its tail like a fan, raises its head and spreads its wings to seduce the hens with a lot of guttural cries. Polygamous, they will seek to mate with several partners.

The little grouse quickly grows up

Placed on the ground, often at the foot of a tree or hidden in the vegetation, the nest consists of a simple hollow lined with grasses, foliage, twigs, coniferous thorns and sometimes down and feathers. In June-July, the female lays between 5 and 9 eggs that she broods for 4 weeks. When she goes away to feed, the hen covers her laying with leaves. When hatching, the young are nidifuges : they wear feathers, their eyes and ears are open and functional. Their mother takes them early on to the surrounding moors and meadows to show them how to feed on insects and berries. The young will remain in the womb until theautumn then will emancipate themselves.

The heather cock, a vulnerable species

The gray wolf and the lynx are the first enemies of the heather rooster. TheRoyal Eagle sometimes takes advantage of the courtship display, when the gallinaceae are gathered in numbers, to attack. As for wild boars, foxes, martens and other raptors, they represent the most formidable predators of youth grouse. However, the animal remains mainly threatened by the modification of its habitat and the poaching. The creation of ski slopes and forestry work are among the factors aggravating its sharp decline. In France, the capercaillie is classified vulnerable on the Red List of the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN). Having disappeared from Alps and from the Jura, the bird has seen a sharp decline in numbers in the Pyrenees. Its lifespan is 8 to 10 years in the wild.