Black Grouse

Tetrao tetrix



A burly bird, bigger than the Red Grouse. Males are larger than females and their plumage is dissimilar. The male is a shiny black with highlights in the sun, he has a red wattle over his eye and a white wing bar. When he displays, he fans and extends his tail to reveal white parts underneath. When he flies, his tail appears long and forked, and the white bars of his wings are revealed. The female's tail is also slightly forked, and when she flies she displays a narrow, pale wing-bar on her upperwing. She is orange-brown with dark, finely marked speckles. Juvenile looks like a small female, paler though and with less obvious markings.


Ideal environment is where there is a mixture of habitat; patches of grassland, heather moorland, bilberry stands, hill farms, adjacent forests. This bird can be found in the north and west uplands of Wales, the north Pennines and in Scotland.


Widely known for its lekking habits. Early in the morning or at dusk, particularly in spring and autumn, groups of males go to traditional sites ('leks') and display, hoping to attract females. The males strut and form poses, trying to gain dominance over each other; they make a bubbling song and grating sounds, both of which travel far. When the females are attracted, couples mate nearby. Can be seen in flocks during winter days or roosting in groups during the night, with a tendency towards long heather.


Predominately vegetarian, this bird's diet includes bilberry, heather shoots, cotton grass buds, annual meadow plants, birch catkins and buds and juniper berries. For the first 2 weeks, hatchlings eat insects, especially sawfly larvae and caterpillars.


The nesting process starts in April. The male displays and mates, then has no association with the family. Females lay 6-11 eggs and she incubates them for 25 days; hatchlings are able to feed themselves with minimal help from female. Young can fly after about 10 days, particularly to flee danger, but they're not independent for approximately 3 months.


These birds are resident in Britain and are quite stationary, often spending their lives within 1 or 2 square kilometres. An estimated 5 000 males display each spring; numbers of Black Grouse have declined significantly over the last century.

Observation Tips

Observing these birds during a traditional lek is ideal; activity is highest around dawn.


During lekking, the bubbly, cooing call of the male is diagnostic. Male's also make a loud 'cook-roo' and females have a flight call: 'kok, kok'.