It was a banner day today, even though we boarded our transport to the high moors at the early hour of 5 a.m. Our quest to see Black Grouse displaying on their lek was highly successful, and our skilled guides, Alan Davies and Ruth Miller (more on them in a later post) managed some up close and personal encounters with these gorgeous black beauties.
Male Black Grouse are the size of a large chicken, weighing 2-3 pounds. But when they are all fluffed out in the height of their display, they appear even larger. The males strut around on bare patches of ground among the clumps of heather and bracken-covered moorland, fanning out their tails like turkeys, puffing up their neck and chest feathers, and quivering as they emit their low humming whistles and scratchy growls at each other. Every now and then the contest between males escalates to a higher level as they face off, chest bump, and rear up at each other.
A short video by Per Johan Næsje illustrating what I have just tried to describe is below:
Hens, which are a more cryptic brown color, don’t congregate in the lekking area, like we’ve seen in the Prairie Chicken leks, but are hidden in the tall heather clumps. Presumably they are watching this display of “macho grouse” and making their choice of mates accordingly.
Throughout most of their range in northern Europe, Black Grouse males display on their lek in the spring, and hens raise one brood of chicks. However, habitat degradation, bad weather, and predation on chicks have resulted in population declines in some areas, such as in Wales and other sites in the UK. We saw about 25% of the Wales population of male Black Grouse today, at just one moorland site.
Note added: Photos taken with my camera by Alan Davies, who had access to the only open window facing the lek.