Red and Black Grouse

on March 30, 2014

The Red Grouse (lagopus, Lagopus Scotica)  is not an unfamiliar game bird species to me and I used to hunt them many years ago as a teenager. They are endemic to the British Isles and now my motivation to spend some time with them is to photograph them and they have been on my Photography "Bucket list" for several years now. This past March I made the effort to fly over briefly to the UK to do so...

 Red and Black Grouse frequent the same areas although the black grouse or black game as they are called are rapidly dwindling in numbers and by their nature a very skittish grouse compared to the red grouse, susceptible to disturbance by man.

I'm not sure what it is about game birds that fascinates me and make me want to study and photograph them. They live a precarious life ever evading predation from the many predators, not least man, keen to eat them. I make no apology that I have hunted and eaten them in years past and they are more often as good to eat as they look. They have incredible life cycles and like most game birds the red grouse have large broods with clutches of up to 9 eggs that are laid in April May time. At the time of my visit the grouse were pairing up and for the most part had selected their mates and breeding territory. Not all grouse are the same in this regard and Red Grouse do not lek like the Sage and Sharptail grouse and prairie chickens that I was very familiar with in Canada. The black grouse shares much of the same territory of the red grouse, all be it slightly lower pasture areas of the heather moors, but they too lek and display at certain times of year unlike their red cousins. Instead the male Red Grouse picks a small territory not more than 50-70 square yards and he then proceds to attract a mate.  A cool behaviour pattern to witness is the "parachuting" that the males do in order to attract a female (Hen) bird and he does so by flying up in the air 20 ft or so and then parachuting down while calling. I spent a bit of time trying to capture this on camera and finally succeeded but a photo does not illustrate it as a well as a video clip would. If a female were to be accidentally scared off the male would quickly follow in flight and do his best efforts to herd her back to his piece of real estate. 

Red grouse have attempted to be introduced in various  areas such as southern England and even in Belgium on the continent. Sadly every attempt has failed. They require more remote areas with less disturbance and natural heather from which they feed on almost exclusively except for some insects particularly in early season.  Because of their economic and social importance, the Red grouse has been much studied as far back as 1911 and currently still studied.  Some of the many studies have centred around disease and predation. Natural predators pose little threat in themselves but to increase the population of red grouse on the moors and shooting estates predator control is part of daily life for the gamekeepers charged to take care of the grouse. Also the practice of using medicated grit and the direct dosing of birds against the endoparasite Threadworm (Trichostrongylus tennis), has been part of the management regime on many moors.





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