© Copyright: Images: Jari Peltomäki, Jouko Lehmuskallio,M. & W. von Wright: Svenska fåglar (Kansalliskirjasto, The National Library of Finland). Recording: Jan-Erik Bruun. All rights reserved.
- Name also: Western Capercaillie, Wood Grouse, Heather Cock
- Family: Pheasants and partridges – Phasianidae
Subfamily: Grouse – Tetraoninae
- Appearance: Stocky like other grouse. Male very large and dark in colouring, with a strikingly large tail. Female brownish and considerably smaller than male.
- Size: Length 54–90 cm, wingspan 87–125 cm. Mature males weigh about 4 kg, mature females 1.9 kg, and younger birds are lighter. The heaviest individuals can be found in Southern Finland.
- Nest: Made by female in a concealed depression beneath a tree or bush, or among dwarf shrubs.
- Breeding: 6–8 eggs laid April–May, incubated by female for 24–29 days. Young learn to fly within 24–29 days.
- Distribution: Found in extensive forests, particularly in areas with varied heathland forest and marshland habitats and old-growth forest, but can also thrive in carefully managed forests. Has declined in recent decades in Finland, where numbers are presently (2015) estimated at 540,000 individuals. The main reasons behind this decline include changes in the age-structure of forests, the reduced availability of suitably sheltered breeding sites (due to clearings and other forestry measures), the loss of courtship display sites and increasing numbers of small mammal predators such as the raccoon dog.
- Migration: Sedentary, and reluctant to move long distances from habitual areas. Does not have territory as such; outside the breeding season males flock together, as do females.
- Diet: Shoots, buds and seeds during the summer; berries and grain in autumn, winter diet almost exclusively consists of pine needles from certain kinds of stunted trees.
- Calls: Courtship calls consist of three elements: clicks, gulps and whetting. Loud wing-beats audible when birds take flight.
Male Capercaillies’ plumage is largely metallic black, though their tails have white dots, and their red eyebrow-like markings are also usually conspicuous. Females resemble female Black Grouse, but are larger and lack any clear white wing stripe. They also have more uniform rusty colouring on their necks, and their tails are rounded.
Male Capercallies gather together in established areas, known as “leks”, in spring to perform a spectacular group courtship display. Females choose a mate from among the displaying males. Males stay at these leks and wait for females to appear. During the spring male Capercaillies may approach people and behave bizarrely or aggressively if they do not encounter females at the leks. This may happen if females are no longer present in areas around the leks due to changes in forest habitats.
Capercaillies are game birds. (Male Capercaillies are largest game birds found in Finland.) They have long been popular with hunters. In 1980 as many as 120,000 Capercaillies were hunted around the country (in 2010 the amount was 32,000).
Capercaillie’s name is derived from the Gaelic capull coille, meaning “horse of the woods”. The Capercaillie features in the heraldic coat of arms of the province of Central Finland.