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Discover the Fascinating World of Black Grouse: Behavior Plumage and Conservation Concerns

The Black Grouse, also known as Lyrurus tetrix, is a medium-sized game bird found across northern parts of Europe and Asia. This species is known for its distinctive appearance, behavior, and vocalizations.

In this article, we will explore the identification, plumage, molts, and other interesting features of the Black Grouse.



Identification: The male Black Grouse is larger than the female, with a total body length of approximately 53 centimeters. It has black plumage with a metallic purple-green sheen on its head, breast, and wings.

Its tail is slightly forked, and its legs are feathered. The male has a white stripe on each wing and a red wattle over its eye.

The female, on the other hand, has brownish-gray plumage with a white belly and a smaller size of around 38 centimeters. Similar Species: The Black Grouse may be confused with other grouse species, such as the Caucasian Grouse, Willow Ptarmigan, and Rock Ptarmigan.

However, these species have different markings and behaviors that help distinguish them from each other.


The Black Grouse has two plumage types – the summer and winter plumage. During summer, the male’s black plumage has a metallic purple-green sheen on its head, breast, and wings.

Also, it has long, elegant, white-tipped tail feathers that complement its courtship display. The male’s wattle is bright red, and its white wing stripes are prominently displayed during courtship.

In contrast, during winter, the male’s plumage turns grayish-brown, and it loses its metallic sheen. The male’s white wing stripes are less visible, and the red wattle becomes smaller.

The female’s plumage remains brownish-gray all year round.


The Black Grouse has a primary molt, which occurs during July and August. During this molt, the male sheds his long, elegant, white-tipped tail feathers.

The white primaries are retained, and the black tail feathers grow back in a shorter version suitable for the winter season. The female’s primary molt occurs from July to September and looks similar to the male.

They shed their flight feathers, followed by their body feathers. However, the female’s tail feathers remain constant throughout the year.


In conclusion, the Black Grouse is an interesting bird species that possesses unique traits such as its courtship display, plumage changes, and molting process. It is also a threatened species due to habitat loss, climate change, and hunting.

As responsible citizens, it is our role to protect these birds and their habitat by supporting conservation organizations and avoiding activities that threaten their survival.

Systematics History

The Black Grouse, also known as Lyrurus tetrix, belongs to the family Phasianidae – a family of ground-dwelling birds that includes pheasants, partridges, and quail. The taxonomy of this species has undergone several changes over the years.

In the past, it was classified as a subspecies of the Willow Grouse (Lagopus lagopus), but now it is considered a separate species.

Geographic Variation

The Black Grouse is found across a wide range of northern parts of Europe and Asia. Its distribution extends from the British Isles in the west to Siberia in the east, and from Norway in the north to the Alps in the south.

Despite their widespread distribution, Black Grouse are locally distributed due to habitat preference and fragmentation.


The Black Grouse is classified into six subspecies based on their geographic distribution and morphology. However, the taxonomic classification of these subspecies remains controversial.

– Lyrurus tetrix tetrix: This subspecies is found in the central and western European mainland, including the British Isles. Its plumage is typically darker than other subspecies and males have a thicker neck ruff.

– Lyrurus tetrix britannicus: This subspecies is endemic to the British Isles. It is paler and less black than the Lyrurus tetrix tetrix, with a larger white line on the male’s wing.

– Lyrurus tetrix viridanus: This subspecies is found in Norway, Sweden, and Finland. Its plumage is similar to Lyrurus tetrix tetrix, but the male’s white wing stripe is shorter and less prominent.

– Lyrurus tetrix mongolicus: This subspecies is found in Mongolia and northeastern China. It has pale plumage with heavily barred wings and tail feathers in both sexes.

– Lyrurus tetrix baikalensis: This subspecies is found in the southeastern part of Siberia around Lake Baikal. It has a whitish rump and tail-tip, and its male has a shorter neck ruff.

– Lyrurus tetrix karelicus: This subspecies is found in northwestern Russia. It is similar to Lyrurus tetrix viridanus but has lighter plumage and is smaller in size.

Related Species

The Black Grouse is closely related to other species in the genus Lyrurus, including the Capercaillie (Lyrurus tetrix), which is larger and predominantly brown in color with a distinctive fan-shaped tail during courtship display. They also share a close relationship with the Ruffed Grouse (Bonasa umbellus) in the family Phasianidae.

Historical Changes to Distribution

The distribution of Black Grouse has changed significantly over time due to a combination of natural and human-induced factors. In the past, the species had a more extensive range, including parts of central and eastern Europe.

But with the loss of habitat and hunting, their populations have declined dramatically.

Habitat loss is the most significant threat to the species, especially in regions such as Scotland and the Alps. Overgrazing and logging activities have resulted in the destruction and fragmentation of the Black Grouse’s habitat.

Climate change has also impacted the species’ distribution by reducing the availability of food and reducing their breeding success. Human activities, such as hunting and trapping, have also contributed to the decline of Black Grouse populations.

In some regions, the species is hunted for sport or food, which puts pressure on local populations. In response to these threats, several conservation efforts have been launched to protect the Black Grouse’s habitat and populations.

These conservation efforts include habitat restoration, protection and establishment of new protected areas, and the implementation of hunting regulations to reduce pressure on local populations.


The systematics history, geographic variation, subspecies, and related species of the Black Grouse highlight the complexity and diversity of this species. The impacts of human activities and natural factors have changed the distribution of this species over time, putting its populations at risk.

As responsible citizens, it is our role to contribute to conservation efforts and support policies that promote habitat restoration and species protection to secure the future of this remarkable species.


Black Grouse habitat varies across their range, but they prefer to live in open heather moorland, mixed forests, and mires. They also require a combination of woodland cover and open areas with bushes and grassy meadows, making them vulnerable to habitat fragmentation.

Their preference for low, damp areas means they often occupy slopes, ravines, and stream valleys. The dense shrubs provide shelter and food, while open spaces permit visual and acoustic communication between individuals.

Movements and Migration

Black Grouse are resident birds, which means they do not migrate long distances. However, they may move to new locations within their range, depending on the availability of food and suitable habitat.

These movements may be seasonal or in response to environmental factors. During winter, Black Grouse form groups for protection and warmth, especially during severe weather conditions.

Groups can number from a few birds to hundreds of individuals, and they usually roost in trees or shrubs. Males may also congregate in winter leks for display and courtship, where they display their plumage and make vocalizations to attract females.

In spring, Black Grouse begin their breeding season, and males establish territories for display and courtship. During this period, males perform a characteristic display, known as the ‘lek.’ Lekking males usually gather in open fields or forest clearings, spaced apart from each other, and display their plumage to attract females.

The lek lasts for several weeks, and males aggressively defend their territories.

Breeding and courtship behavior continues through the summer months when females start nesting. Nests are typically constructed on the ground, hidden among vegetation and decayed plant matter.

Females lay 5 to 12 eggs, which they incubate for about 23 to 26 days. The young chicks are precocial, hatching fully feathered and mobile.

The chicks are dependent on their mothers for food and protection for several weeks before they can fly and forage on their own. By autumn, young Black Grouse become independent, and they begin forming winter groups.

Conservation Concerns

Black Grouse populations have declined across much of their range due to habitat loss and fragmentation, hunting, and predation by invasive species such as American mink and domestic cats.

Habitat loss is the leading threat to Black Grouse populations, as natural habitats are destroyed or altered by logging, grazing, and burning. Pesticide use can also impact Black Grouse populations by reducing the availability of their primary food source.

Predation is a significant factor in the decline of Black Grouse populations. The introduction of non-native predators such as the American mink, domestic cats, and red foxes has increased predation pressures.

Along with these, natural predators such as golden eagles and goshawks also prey on Black Grouse. Conservation efforts are underway to protect Black Grouse populations.

These include habitat restoration and protection of areas known to have high populations, reducing pressure from hunting and trapping, and controlling invasive predators. Additionally, programs have been established to monitor Black Grouse breeding success, population size, and other key indicators to help inform conservation strategies.


Black Grouse have adapted to a wide range of habitats across their range and have distinctive movements throughout the year. With their lekking behavior and seasonal movements, they have extraordinary physiological, anatomical, and behavioral capabilities.

However, this species faces significant threats due to habitat loss, fragmentation, hunting, and predation by invasive species. Conservation efforts are imperative for Black Grouse protection, and careful actions must be taken to maintain and restore the necessary habitat for their survival.

Diet and Foraging

Feeding: Black Grouse are herbivorous birds that feed on a wide variety of plants, including heather, berries, leaves, shoots, buds, and seeds. They have a unique characteristic feeding method, which involves plucking small branches and leaves with their beaks and shaking them to extract seeds and buds.

Diet: Black Grouse have a varied diet that changes with the seasons. During summer, they rely heavily on vegetative parts such as shoots, buds, and leaves, which provide the necessary nutrients for breeding and chick rearing.

In winter, they feed mainly on the buds and catkins of birch and alder trees, as well as seeds and berries such as heather and bilberry. Metabolism and Temperature Regulation: Black Grouse have a unique metabolism and temperature regulation system that allows them to expend less energy and survive in their cold habitats.

During winter, they reduce their metabolic rate by up to 60% and increase their body temperature by 1-2 degrees Celsius, to conserve energy and cope with low temperatures.

Sounds and Vocal


Vocalization: Black Grouse males are well-known for their vocalizations, which are a crucial part of their courtship behavior. They make a variety of calls, including the ‘grog,’ a deep-pitched, repetitive, drumming sound produced by air passing through the male Black Grouse’s inflated esophagus, which can be heard up to a kilometer away.

Other vocalizations include the ‘click,’ a sharp, high-pitched sound made with the tongue, and the ‘cackle,’ a series of sounds produced during courtship display to attract females. Females respond to the males’ vocalizations by making an inconspicuous, soft ‘coo’ sound.

Black Grouse males use their elaborate vocalizations to defend their territories, attract females, and establish dominance. The lekking behavior is a fascinating phenomenon where males compete in tiny, high-energy territories where they display their plumage, make vocalizations and even engage in physical contests to attract, challenge, and mate with females.

Conservation Concerns

Black Grouse populations have been declining globally due to habitat loss, fragmentation, and predation threats.

Habitat loss has resulted from intensive agriculture, forestry, and overgrazing by herbivorous animals.

The predation threat covers a wide range of predators, including native and introduced species such as foxes, cats, and birds of prey such as gyrfalcons and golden eagles. Climate change is also a significant concern that disrupts the seasonal cycles and dwindle year-round food source availability.

Conservation efforts have been launched to protect, soothe, and recover Black Grouse populations’ hindrances. One strategy is to establish protected reserves that promote habitat restoration and protection of crucial areas.

Another strategy is the introduction of policies tailored towards reducing hunting pressures and ensuring long-term protection due to their ecological importance and potential for high economic value.


The Black Grouse exhibits unique adaptations for their cold habitats, such as the energy conservation and metabolism system. They also have intricate behavioral patterns vital for their survival and successful breeding, such as foraging and vocalization.

However, they face significant pressures resulting in population declines, which demand attention, conservation measures, and innovative strategies from individuals, policymakers, and stakeholders. It’s essential to recognize their value for biodiversity, ecological equilibrium, and economic potential, leading to the establishment of protective measures and policies to secure their habitat and populations.


Locomotion: Black Grouse move slowly and steadily on foot, relying on their strong legs to traverse through heather moorland, undergrowth, and forests. They can also leap and fly over short distances, using their sturdy, compact bodies, and broad wings.

Self-Maintenance: Black Grouse engage in various self-maintenance behaviors such as preening, dustbathing, and sunbathing. Preening is an essential activity that involves showering, rubbing, and smoothing their feathers to maintain their plumage and preserve their waterproofing.

Dustbathing helps the bird remove excess oils and dirt from their plumage, and sunbathing facilitates the production of essential vitamins. Agonistic

Behavior: Agonistic behavior is common in Black Grouse, especially during the breeding season.

Males defend their territories and female mates from competitors using aggressive displays such as body displays, tail-fanning, and calls while chasing rivals out of their territories. Sexual

Behavior: Sexual behavior is an integral aspect of Black Grouse behavior, particularly during the breeding season.

Males perform courtship displays, including the lekking behavior, to attract females and establish dominance. They also make low-pitched sounds and wing-flapping signals to communicate with their females.


Breeding among Black Grouse takes place annually, and it involves displays, copulation, and egg-laying. Mating among Black Grouse is polygynous, where the males mate with multiple females during the breeding season to increase their chances of fertilizing more eggs.

The breeding season starts towards the end of winter and lasts until early summer. When the breeding season starts, males establish their territories and converge in an open area to display their distinctive breeding plumage and court females.

Females assess the males based on their displays, plumage quality, and dominance, selecting the fittest males as their mating partners. After copulation, the females prepare a nest on the ground, hidden in thick vegetation, where they lay between 5-12 eggs.

Incubation of the eggs lasts between 23-26 days, and the chicks hatch with their feathers and the ability to walk. They are fed by their mothers for the first few weeks of their lives before foraging on their own.

Demography and Populations

Black Grouse populations are declining globally due to habitat loss, human activities, climate change, and predation. In some parts of the range, populations have declined by up to 90%, and the species is now classified as near-threatened.

To counter these declines, conservation efforts are underway to preserve and protect Black Grouse populations.

Habitat restoration, monitoring, and protection of critical habitats, such as breeding grounds and wintering areas, are crucial to success.

Consequently, governments, individuals, and conservation organizations are taking steps towards reducing habitat loss, restoring degraded habitats, and formulating policies to support the conservation of Black Grouse populations.


Black Grouse exhibit unique behaviors, such as courtship displays, aggressive behavior, and agonistic behavior, during the breeding season. They also possess a variety of self-maintenance behaviors for a healthy and comfortable life.

Breeding among Black Grouse involves courting, mate selection, copulation, and egg-laying, leading to the hatching of precocial young, which can move and forage after hatching. However, Black

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