Black Grouse, or Black Cock, with their distinctive red eyebrows, blue-black feathers and an impressive white tail that forms a fan when lekking, are a species that certainly put on a show. The females or ‘Greyhens’, are speckled brown with a white underwing to camouflage with their surroundings.
Black Grouse numbers have been dropping over the past century but are protected by law during lekking season when breeding is taking place. Black Grouse can be hard to see when roosting for the day, but very distinctive when on their Lek sight. They live in an area with dense broadleaved plantations of Birch and willow, that opens into heather, shrub and boggy moorland important areas of their food source of catkins, invertebrates and wild berries.
Lekking is quite a spectacle to watch when you see them in full effect. The ‘Blackcocks’ gather in the early mornings to have a competitive stand off with other males in a performance of fanned white tails and cackling noises, as they attempt to fight off other males in order to mate with females in the Spring.
April – the fighting starts, males fight to own leadership before the females join the lekking sight in May to pair up with the right male. The Lek is a mesmerising performance of wing flapping, heads down and fanned out tails that stand out in the moorland. The fighting heats up as the black cocks start to add pecking and kicking into the sequence, in a head to head battle. The ‘Greyhens’ are ultimately in charge of the relationship, as they choose the male at the top of the ‘pecking order.’ The less fortunate males will have to have better luck next time.
Lekking isn’t just about the impressive sight, but also the captivating and haunting sounds that echo over the heathland. A drawn out, owl like “roo-kooing” that vibrates over the group with harsh “kweeking” mixed in as the males call out to each other. For true calls, click here.
To hear or even see the Black Grouse in their prime at a lek site, knowing where to look is the key. Here at Speyside Wildlife you can tailor a Day Guide with us where a guide can take you out (early morning) to try catch these grouse in action. We also include early morning visits on a few of our UK holidays.