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Elaborate Courtship and Survival Tactics of the Black-billed Capercaillie: A Comprehensive Guide

The Black-billed Capercaillie is an eye-catching bird species that can be found in the forests of Eurasia, from Scandinavia to the Altai Mountains. Also known as Tetrao urogalloides, this bird has a unique appearance and an interesting lifecycle.

In this article, we will learn about its identification, different plumages, and its molts.




The black-billed capercaillie is a large bird, weighing up to approximately four kilograms. Its males have an impressive size, with an average length of approximately 97cm, while the females are smaller, with an average length of approximately 64cm.

The males have black plumage and a metallic green-blue sheen on their feathers. They also have a striking black bill, and their tails are fan-shaped.

In the breeding season, the males have a bright red patch around their eyes, and they have white spots on their wings. Meanwhile, the females have brown plumage, and their tails are square-shaped.

Similar Species:

It’s easy to confuse the black-billed capercaillie with other bird species, such as the Western Capercaillie, but there are a few differences to look for to differentiate them. The black-billed capercaillie has a more extensive range compared to the Western Capercaillie, which is found mainly in Europe’s central regions.

Additionally, the black-billed capercaillie has a square-shaped tail, and the male has a black bill, distinctive from that of the Western Capercaillie.


Black-billed capercaillie has different plumages that vary depending on the bird’s age and sex. Two seasons determine their plumage developmentwinter and summer.

In winter, males have darker plumage, which helps them blend in with their surroundings, while the females have lighter-colored plumage. They lose the white patches on their wings, which aid in their winter camouflage.

In summer, males stand out with their bright red patch on their head. They also have more vibrant plumage coloration than in winter.

Even more striking is that their neck feathers have elongated tufts that enhance their visual appeal. Females do not change much in the summer; they retain their brown plumage.


The black-billed capercaillie undergoes two molts during the year, which helps them maintain their plumage and prepare for the colder months. In April and May, the birds undergo their first complete molt, which involves shedding all winter plumage and growing new feathers.

The males develop elongated tufts of feathers on their neck and bright red patches around their eyes. During the breeding season, these feathers enhance their appeal and display status.

In August and September, the birds undergo their second molt, replacing their old feathers with new ones. The molt is an essential period of maintenance that helps the birds maintain their attractive and eye-catching appearance.


This article has explored the topic of the Black-billed Capercaillie. We have learned about the bird’s identification, its plumages, and its molts.

This bird is unique in appearance and has an interesting lifecycle. Understanding this bird’s behavior and physiology helps in protecting and conserving their populations.

This information is valuable to nature enthusiasts and bird watchers who want to identify and enjoy the beauty of this magnificent bird.

Systematics History

The systematic history of a species is essential in determining its classification and relationship to other species. The systematic history of the Black-billed Capercaillie was initially unclear, but with the development of molecular techniques and advanced technology, researchers have been able to get a better understanding of the species.

Recent studies show that the Black-billed Capercaillie belongs to the family of Phasianidae, which includes birds such as chickens and turkeys.

Geographic Variation

Black-billed Capercaillie displays geographic variation in plumage coloration and body size, depending on where they are found. The birds found in the eastern part of their range are smaller in size, while those found in the western part are larger.

The plumage coloration also varies; birds found in southern areas have lighter plumage compared to those in the northern areas.


There are six recognized subspecies of Black-billed Capercaillie. They include:


Tetrao urogallus urogallus – found in eastern Europe and western Russia. 2.

Tetrao urogallus cantabricus – found in the Cantabrian Mountain range in Spain. 3.

Tetrao urogallus major – found in Scandinavia’s northern and central regions. 4.

Tetrao urogallus britannicus – found in Scotland. 5.

Tetrao urogallus watti – found in Korea and southeastern Siberia. 6.

Tetrao urogallus ussuriensis – found in northeastern China and the Russian Far East.

Related Species

The Black-billed Capercaillie has several related species, including the Western Capercaillie (Tetrao urogallus), which is found in Central Europe. They are closely related and share similar characteristics such as large size and fan-shaped tails.

Another related species is the Siberian Capercaillie (Tetrao cupido), which is found in Russia’s far eastern areas. The similarities in the physical characteristics of the Black-billed Capercaillie and the Siberian Capercaillie suggest that they shared a common ancestor.

Historical Changes to Distribution

The Black-billed Capercaillie’s distribution has changed significantly over history, mainly due to human activities and environmental changes. The historical range of the species included western Europe, but it has significantly reduced over the years.

The extinction of the birds in several European countries, including the Netherlands, Belgium, and England, is due to habitat loss, hunting, and human encroachment. In the past, the Black-billed Capercaillie was more widespread in the eastern part of its range, including Russia and Korea.

However, recent studies show that their numbers have decreased significantly in China and the Russian Far East due to habitat loss and hunting.


The decline of the Black-billed Capercaillie population has led to conservation efforts to protect the species. Several measures have been put in place to reduce habitat destruction, including forest management practices and abandonment of grazing activities.

Hunting restrictions have also been put in place to prevent the illegal hunting of the bird. In areas where the population has been reduced, captive breeding programs have been set up to increase the number of birds in the wild.

The conservation measures have been effective in some areas, with populations showing a significant increase. However, there is still a long way to go to ensure the survival of the species, especially in areas where the population has significantly decreased.


In conclusion, the Black-billed Capercaillie is a magnificent bird species that has undergone several changes over history. The species’ distribution has changed due to human activities and environmental changes.

Fortunately, several conservation efforts have been put in place to protect the population. Understanding the species’ systematic history, geographic variation, and subspecies helps in developing effective conservation measures.

Ultimately, it is the responsibility of everyone to protect this and other endangered species to ensure their survival.


Black-billed Capercaillie is a forest bird and is found in a variety of forest types, including pine, spruce, and mixed forests. They inhabit forested areas with dense underbrush and trees that have a high canopy.

During the breeding season, they prefer to inhabit mature forests with a dense understory in well-drained and relatively dry areas. During the winter season, they move to forests that have a lower canopy and a higher density of trees to trap warm air.


Black-billed Capercaillie is not known for long-distance flights and terrestrial movements. However, during the breeding season, the males are known for their elaborate displays.

During the breeding season, male Black-billed Capercaillies engage in elaborate courtship displays that involve unique vocalizations, such as hooting and croaking, to attract females. The males also perform a wing-beating display, where they make a drumming noise with their wings to attract females.

During winter, Black-billed Capercaillies’ movement is limited to seeking out food in their habitat due to snow cover in areas with deep snow. They also move to lower forest areas where there is less snow to make it easier to find food.


Black-billed Capercaillie is considered a non-migratory bird. However, there are records of Black-billed Capercaillies’ migration, especially during the winter season, when they are known to move to lower altitudes with less snow cover.

Their migration patterns are usually determined by food availability and the severity of winter conditions. Black-billed Capercaillies that inhabit the northern regions of their range may also move down to lower altitudes during the breeding season, where temperatures are milder.

This movement reduces the effects of harsh weather conditions that may impact their breeding success.

Conservation Implications

Black-billed Capercaillie’s habitat and movements have significant implications on the species’ conservation.

Habitat loss and fragmentation due to human activities, forest management practices, and development projects continue to threaten the bird’s survival.

Human activities have led to the fragmentation of the forest habitat, leading to a decrease in the bird’s population.

Black-billed Capercaillie’s habitat requirements necessitate the need for large areas of forests that have a high canopy and a dense understory.

This is especially critical for breeding and roosting sites. To conserve Black-billed Capercaillie populations, forest management practices that reduce fragmentation, such as creating larger blocks of forest habitats, should be prioritized.

Additionally, the effects of climate change may also negatively impact Black-billed Capercaillies, especially in their winter habitats. The reduction of deep snow cover may decrease the food availability of Black-billed Capercaillie by exposing food sources to predators.


In conclusion, Black-billed Capercaillie is a forest bird that inhabits areas with trees with a high canopy and dense understory. Their movements are mainly limited to seeking out food and conducting elaborate courtship displays during the breeding season.

Black-billed Capercaillie’s habitat and movements have implications on the species’ conservation, and it is vital to prioritize forest management practices that preserve their habitats and reduce fragmentation. The effects of climate change also have negative implications on the species’ survival, and conservation efforts must take this into account.

Diet and Foraging


Black-billed Capercaillies are omnivorous birds, with a diet that mainly consists of leaves, buds, and berries from trees and shrubs. They also consume insects, small mammals, and other birds.


During the spring and summer, Black-billed Capercaillies feed on leaves, buds, and blossoms of trees and shrubs, such as hazelnut, bilberry, and lingonberry, among others. During the winter months, the birds feed on conifer needles and buds.

Black-billed Capercaillies consume both plant and animal matter, depending on the availability of food. They feed on insects, such as ants and beetles, and small mammals such as rodents and voles.

The bird’s diet is dependent on its habitat, and they will forage for food based on what is available in the area. Metabolism and Temperature Regulation:

Black-billed Capercaillies are adapted to survive in cold environments.

In response to cold conditions, these birds typically increase their metabolic rate to maintain body heat. The birds also have specialized feathers that trap air and create an insulation layer to reduce heat loss.

The birds have an adaptation that helps preserve water and heat when they need it the most. During the winter months, Black-billed Capercaillies can lower their body temperature and enter a state of torpor, during which their metabolic rate decreases significantly.

This adaptation allows them to save energy and maintain body heat when food is scarce.

Sounds and Vocal



Black-billed Capercaillies are known for their elaborate vocalizations, which include a series of calls used for communication between individuals. During the breeding season, male Black-billed Capercaillies engage in elaborate courtship displays that involve unique vocalizations, such as hooting and croaking, to attract females.

Male Black-billed Capercaillies use a variety of calls to communicate with other males and females. The most distinctive vocalization of the male is the “kokk” sound that he makes during courtship displays.

This sound begins with low-pitched notes that gradually rise, ending in a loud and distinctive “kokk” sound. Black-billed Capercaillies also use other vocalizations such as “blook,” “blurr,” and “gluggo,” for different purposes.

The “blook” sound is used by females to indicate their presence, while the “blurr” sound is used by males to establish territories. The birds’ vocalizations are distinctive, and they provide important information about the birds’ behavior and social structure.

Researchers use vocalizations to determine population size, sex ratios, and breeding behavior of the bird species.

Conservation Implications

Black-billed Capercaillie’s diet, foraging strategy, vocalizations and behavior have significant implications for their conservation.

Habitat loss and fragmentation due to human activities, forest management practices and development projects continue to threaten the bird’s survival.

Black-billed Capercaillies’ diet necessitates the need for large forest areas with a variety of plant species, including trees and shrubs, that provide food sources for the birds.

Conservation efforts must focus on preserving large blocks of forest habitats, ensuring that Black-billed Capercaillies’ food sources remain available.

The bird’s vocalizations are essential in determining population size, sex ratios, and breeding behavior. The decline in the bird’s population has led to a reduction in the number of individuals within their breeding population, leading to a reduction in courtship displays, including reduced use of vocalizations.

Conservation efforts should focus on protecting the bird’s population sizes to ensure that individuals within breeding populations have a higher likelihood of displaying courtship behavior.


Black-billed Capercaillies are omnivorous birds that feed on a variety of plant and animal species. The bird’s diet is dependent on their habitat, and they forage for food based on what is available in the area.

Their elaborate vocalizations are used for communication between individuals and provide important information about the birds’ behavior and social structure. Black-billed Capercaillies face several challenges, including habitat fragmentation, hunting and habitat loss.

Conserving Black-billed Capercaillies and their habitats is essential to ensure the survival of the species and maintain the ecological balance of their habitats.



Black-billed Capercaillies spend much of their time on the ground, where they walk and run. Their strong legs and feet aid in walking and gripping onto vertical surfaces when necessary.

Their strong wings make it possible for them to make short flights when necessary, mostly for escape from predators. Self-Maintenance:

Black-billed Capercaillies groom themselves using their beak and claws to keep their feathers clean and free from parasites.

During the molting period, they replace their old feathers with new ones, a process that requires significant energy and time. The birds also consume grit and small pebbles to help grind the food in their gizzard.



Black-billed Capercaillies, both males and females, exhibit aggressive behaviors when their territory or their mate is threatened. The birds will chase away intruders, using displays such as wing-beating, aerial displays, and vocalizations.



During the breeding season, male Black-billed Capercaillies engage in elaborate courtship displays that involve unique vocalizations, such as hooting and croaking, to attract females. They also perform wing-beating displays, making a drumming noise to attract females.


Black-billed Capercaillies become sexually mature around the age of two years. The breeding season begins in late April to May when the birds undergo their first complete molt.

At this time, males leave their communal winter roosting areas and establish a breeding territory. During courtship, males display elaborate behaviors, such as wing-beating, aerial displays, and vocalizations, with their songs and calls being one of the most important means of communication.

Females approach the males, and the males’ displays help in attracting the females for breeding. Female Black-billed Capercaillies lay up to 8-10 eggs at a time, laying them in a shallow scrape on the ground.

Incubation lasts about 25-28 days, with the chicks hatching out fully feathered. The chicks remain with their mother for a couple of weeks, after which they disperse on their own to fend for themselves.

Demography and Populations

Monitoring population sizes and demographics is vital in developing effective conservation measures. Black-billed Capercaillie populations have declined due to habitat loss and fragmentation, hunting, and human disturbance.

The population size of Black-billed Capercaillies varies due to several factors such as

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