Quick facts

Common names: black grouse, blackgame

Scientific name: Tetrao tetrix

Family: Phasianidae (pheasants and grouse)

Habitat: farmland, moorland, heathland

Diet: buds, shoots, grass, berries

Predators: golden eagles, hen harriers, foxes

Origin: native

What do black grouse look like?

Males are blue-black with a bright red marking above the eye, a fan tail and white stripes on the wings. They are similar in size to a domestic hen. Females are slightly smaller than males and are a mottled greyish brown in colour.

Not to be confused with: capercallie. The female black grouse is similar to the female capercaillie, however the black grouse doesn’t have the capercaillie’s orange-brown throat.

What do black grouse eat?

Adults enjoy a diet made up of buds, shoots, grass and, during the autumn and winter months, berries. Chicks are fed a diet of insects for the first few weeks of their lives, gradually increasing the amount of plant matter they consume as they become independent.

Black grouse chicks in nest with broken shells

Credit: Markus Varesvuo / naturepl.com

How do black grouse breed?

Breeding season usually takes place from early April to mid-May, when males take part in the ‘lek’ – an ostentatious display in order to attract a mate. Males gather together to display by fanning out their tails, fluffing up their wings and making a range of noises. This is all to get the attention of the females, who will watch the display before choosing a male to mate with.

Nests are built on the ground in May, usually lined with moss and located in a discreet area surrounded with vegetation. Around 6-10 eggs are laid, which hatch after almost a month of incubation. Chicks become independent at about three months old.

Where do black grouse live?

Black grouse live in the upland areas of Scotland predominantly, although there are some small populations in northern England and Wales.

Did you know?

The Famous Grouse whiskey producers support black grouse conservation work.

Signs and spotting tips

Listen out for the distinctive calls made during the breeding season, which it’s said can be heard from up to 4km away. Make sure you stay out of the way during this time so not to disturb the birds.

Threats and conservation

The black grouse is in serious decline in the UK. It is listed as a Red (high concern) species under the Red List for Birds of Conservation Concern (2015) and there are many explanations for its significant decline. Climate change, changes in agricultural practices, and increased grazing by sheep and other animals are all contributing factors.

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