Black grouse

Latin name: Tetrao tetrix Black grouse

Length: 40 - 55cm Wingspan: 65 - 80cm

Where: Woodland edges and clearings, for example at Cashel

When: Early mornings in spring are the best time to catch a glimpse of them lekking

Although the male black grouse is as big as a domestic hen it is not a bird we often see. Not only because they are they becoming increasingly rare, but also because they hide themselves away in woodland clearings and forest edges. They feed on the seeds, berries and buds they find there - birch buds are particular favourites - and roost high in the trees.

In early spring however the males throw caution to the wind to strut and pose at mating ‘leks’. Sometimes up to a dozen blackcock dandies gather at dawn to display to the females, flaring their scarlet eye wattles, puffing up their neck feathers and fanning their lyre-shaped tails like peacocks. Their strange, dove-like calls can carry across the fields for 400m, alerting any females to the mating game they are playing.

The females are much less striking – they need colours that help them to camouflage their whereabouts when they are incubating eggs or rearing young. Though harder than the males to distinguish from red grouse, their lack of red ‘eyebrows’ or white feathery stockings, and their different taste in habitat, helps distinguish them.

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Any natural place contains an infinite reservoir of information, and therefore the potential for inexhaustible new discoveries.

Richard Louv, Last Child in the Woods