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Treasured Highland Bird in Trouble

Rare and much loved, the Capercaille is a native of the Scottish Highlands. The bird has been
endangered for some time but a recent survey has revealed that the population has halved since the 1990’s. This unfortunate situation is thought to be the result of climate change and, as ever, human activity.

Conservationists are now calling for more action to protect this species.

The Study

An extensive field survey of capercaillie breeding grounds in the Highlands has shown that the estimated a population is now just 1,114 birds compared with an estimate of 2,200 in 1994. The Capercaillie is the world’s largest species of grouse and was placed on the red list following a serious decline in numbers which began in the 1970’s.

The recent survey appears to suggest that this elusive bird, which was reintroduced to Scotland in the 1830s after a previously becoming extinct, is now almost wholly confined to forests in Strathspey in the Cairngorms. It is there that over 80% of the remaining birds now live.

There are currently no capercailles inhabiting the islands and few are left in Deeside and Perthshire. Questions are now being asked about the effectiveness of the measures being employed to protect the birds.

Climate Change and Human Intervention

The changing climate has caused increasingly extreme weather events and these have impacted the plants which are important elements of the capercaille’s diet. The birds’ breeding has been affected by wet weather depleting food supplies in spring. Predation has also been a factor in the fall in population as has pressure on natural habitats from housing developments. Human encroachment into the capercaille’s habitat also occurs when active people participate in outdoor sports such as mountain biking.

Conservation Efforts

When it first became evident that the population of capercailles had fallen dramatically, conservationists worked to remove deer fences and to make them more visible as collisions with the structures were killing the birds. But more needs to be done. Participation in outdoor sports is being encouraged by the Cairngorm National Park but this activity is disturbing the birds year-round. Housing projects also continue in the region.

The park authority say that they are working with the local community and visitors to protect the bird’s habitat. They hope to develop a conservation programme to support the capercaille. It appears that they should do this sooner rather than later!


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