Bird of the Week: Black Grouse

A distinctive eyebrow, a lyre-shaped tail and the 'lek': discover this charismatic upland bird.

By Caroline Offord
Published 31 Aug 2019, 07:52 BST
The black grouse is found in uplands and in the remaining Caledonian Forest of the Highlands. ...
The black grouse is found in uplands and in the remaining Caledonian Forest of the Highlands.
Photograph by Ben Andrew, RSPB

The black grouse or black cock is a large game bird in the grouse family. The all-black males have distinctive red wattle over the eye and show a striking white stripe along each wing in flight. They have a lyre-shaped tail which is fanned out and raised to show white under-tail feathers when displaying. The smaller grey-brown females have a slightly notched tail. 

Habitat loss and overgrazing have resulted in a decline in numbers and range making them a Red List species. Positive habitat management is helping them to increase in some areas.

The 'lek' is a distinctive show of posturing by males designed to attract females.
Photograph by Andy Hay, RSPB Images

Black grouse can be found in upland areas of Wales, the Pennines and most of Scotland. Best looked for on farmland and moorland with nearby forestry or scattered trees. Visit RSPB Corrimony, RSPB Geltsdale and RSPB Inversnaid to see black grouse. 

The black grouse is one of only three British bird species that exhibit lekking behaviour.

A ‘lek' is an area where the males gather to display and compete to attract the attention of the females. The bubbling calls and the posturing of the cocks attract hens, who choose their mate.  It is a fantastic spectacle but you should make sure when you are watching the birds lekking that you do not disturb them at all.


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