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HomeScienceCapercaillie numbers fell to 542 in Scotland after cold, wet weather. Spring.

Capercaillie numbers fell to 542 in Scotland after cold, wet weather. Spring.

A new analysis warns that the population of an iconic member of the grouse family has dropped below 1,000 in Scotland and may continue to decline.

According to the most recent national survey conducted by RSPB Scotland, just 542 capercaillies, a large woodland grouse, are thought to remain in the country.

The population of the bird in Scotland has decreased by around 50 percent since the last census six years ago and is now at a critical level, according to the survey.

Since the third national survey in 2003/04, capercaillie populations have been declining, but this is the first time since the survey began that the population has dropped below 1,000.

Capercaillie numbers fell to 542 in scotland after cold, wet weather. Spring.
Capercaillie numbers fell to 542 in scotland after cold, wet weather. Spring.

Only in Scotland is the capercaillie, the world’s largest grouse, found in the United Kingdom. The majority are in Cairngorms National Park in the Scottish Highlands.

During the breeding season, males of this unusual bird, which can measure up to 1 meter in length and weigh up to 4.3 kilograms, engage in ferocious battles.

Capercaillie became extinct in Scotland in the 1700s, primarily as a result of the destruction of their woodland habitat; however, they were reintroduced from Sweden in the following century.

However, the bird may become extinct for a second time due to cold and wet spring weather, which hinders mating, as well as poaching and habitat destruction.

Capercaillies are described as being extremely secretive and elusive, frequently perching in trees or hiding on the forest floor, yet males can engage in deadly fights during the breeding season.

Experts are urging agencies to collaborate to save the birds, which have been killed for their flesh.

Danger of
Capercaillie numbers fell to 542 in scotland after cold, wet weather. Spring.

As a result of a population reduction, landowners have banned the shooting of capercaillie and it is unlawful to shoot them, however, this does not appear to be reversing the trend.

The capercaillie population in Scotland is surveyed every six years, and this sixth study was done during the winter of 2021/22.

Nick Wilkinson, a conservation biologist at RSPB Scotland, commented, “This current estimate of capercaillie numbers demonstrates just how vulnerable the Scottish population is.”

‘In previous studies, the number of birds fluctuated between 1,000 and 2,000, therefore it is extremely concerning that the results from past winter indicate there are only approximately 542 individuals left.

By pinpointing the capercaillie’s strongholds and the areas where they can have the greatest influence, these results will aid in determining where activity should be focused to help the species.

The decline is fueled by a mix of factors that reduce capercaillie survival and reproductive success, according to conservation specialists.

These include cold, wet spring weather, which impairs the fitness of female birds before the breeding season and the survival of chicks. Insect scarcity may also contribute to low chick survival rates.

The genus Tetrao contains two species of capercaillie: the Black-billed capercaillie (Tetrao urogalloides) found in Siberia, Mongolia, and China, and the Western capercaillie (Tetrao urogallus) found in Scotland, Europe, and Western Russia.

Western capercaillie is only found in Scotland, primarily in pine forests with a dense understory of blaeberry, a deciduous shrub species.

Cairngorms National Park in the Scottish Highlands is believed to contain 85 percent of Scotland’s population.

Partners in the survey will collaborate with the Scottish government to design a plan to reverse the loss, with a special emphasis on the Cairngorms National Park region.

Andy Ford, head of nature and climate change at the Cairngorms National Park Authority stated, “The results of the national survey are profoundly troubling, and we must all work together to determine what further, quick initiatives can be implemented immediately to avoid any further deterioration.”

“We will continue to work closely with all parties concerned to coordinate a strategic approach to conservation efforts and, most importantly, to provide on-the-ground action.”

A Scottish government official noted, “Despite attempts to restore capercaillie habitats, the results of the most recent national survey are quite alarming.”

“As we continue to support capercaillie on the ground, we will also be working with partners to establish the most appropriate strategy in light of these new facts and the evaluation by NatureScot’s Scientific Advisory Committee,”

The new survey was supported by RSPB Scotland, NatureScot, the Cairngorms National Park Authority, the Cairngorms Capercaillie Project, Forestry and Land Scotland, and Scottish Forestry. RSPB Scotland was responsible for the fieldwork and scientific analysis of the results.

In February, the NatureScot Scientific Advisory Committee (SAC) cautioned that if the current pace of population reduction continues, the bird might become extinct in the United Kingdom within two to three decades.

If the population is to be conserved, the paper states that reinvigorated intense measures’ are required, focusing on choices that would increase the survival of eggs and young chicks.

It warned that any delay in implementing these measures “may result in the population decreasing to the brink of extinction”

The new assessment follows an analysis released last week by the conservation organization BirdLife, which indicated that 49 percent of the world’s bird species are currently in decline.


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