Males or ‘blackcocks’ are very distinctive, with glossy blue-black
plumage and red wattles (the bright red patches over each eye), white
bars on the wings (seen only in flight), and curved black tail feathers.
When displaying, these feathers are fanned, giving the tail a lyre shape
and exposing the striking white under-tail coverts.
Females or ‘greyhens’ are much more cryptic (well-camouflaged),
to reduce the chance of being seen when nesting or feeding on the ground.
Their reddish brown plumage has dark bars, the tail is slightly notched
and the white wing bars are narrower than on males, so less obvious.
Males are about 55 cm (21") from beak to tail, have a wingspan of
80 cm (31") and weigh in around 1.25 kg (2.75 lbs). Females are smaller,
at 40 cm (16"), with a wingspan of 65 cm (26") and weigh about
950g (2.1 lbs, about the same size as a stocky mallard duck).
Females (greyhens) have brown feathers to camouflage
them in heather and grass
Females have a gruff bark, but it is the displaying males that have the
most distinctive sound: a far carrying, dove-like, rolling coo with a
regular rhythm and explosive ‘sneeze’.
Black grouse can live up to five years in the wild.
Black grouse have one brood of young each year. The female lays 6-13 eggs
in a hollow, with little or no lining, on the ground in tall vegetation,
typically heather or rushes. The eggs hatch during mid to late June.
Black grouse are strong fliers and can fly high over long distances. They
have regular wingbeats, much faster than red grouse and less cumbersome
than the capercaillie, and occasionally glide. The white of the wing bars,
especially the males, are clearly seen when in flight.
The Black grouse Tetrao tetrix is one of four grouse species
found in the UK, the others being red grouse Lagopus lagopus,
ptarmigan Lagopus mutus and capercaillie Tetrao urogallus.
Capercaillie and black grouse are often referred to as ‘woodland
grouse’, which reflects their habitat in some parts of the UK, but
they also live on a mosaic of pasture, heaths and moorland, particularly
in northern England.
Male black grouse are very distinctive and unlikely to be confused with
other species of grouse, besides the male capercaillie in northern Scotland,
which are 30% bigger!
The females, being more camouflaged, are most likely to be mistaken for
the other female grouse species, particularly red grouse and capercaillie;
again the capers are 30% bigger and the female black grouse has darker
wings and tail.
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