The capercaillie is probably one of the most mythical birds of the northern hemisphere. It is associated with the hideous lindworm, a dragon-like creature of Swedish folklore, with princes in Central Europe hunting for hochwild, and all sorts of superstitious tales in Norway and Sweden involving forest sprites etc.
- The impressive mating display of the capercaillie takes place during the mating season in May.
- An adult rooster weighs 3.5-4.5 kg; in extreme cases 5,5 kg.
- The hen weighs 1.5-2.5 kg.
- The capercaillie can live to the age of 8 years. The rooster reaches adulthood at 3-4 years; the hen is sexually mature from 1.5 years.
From the age of about 3 years, the capercaillie rooster has his territory adjacent to the place chosen for his mating displays. In optimal vegetation, the outer limits of that area can be ca 1 km apart. The less suitable the area is for the bird’s biotope/habitat, the larger the area will be, and with more empty parts where the bird will not go. Younger birds are made to stay in the poorer quality parts of the area. The hen marks out territory when she has chicks in the summer months; during the rest of the year, she generally moves around over larger areas than the rooster does and she is not so dependent on the quality of the forest. After the mating period in May, she broods for just under a month and the eggs are hatched in mid-June. For the first few days after hatching, the chicks’ survival is very dependent on the weather/temperature. They must not become cold and wet (they risk freezing to death) and there must be plenty of insect activity since insects are practically the only food the chicks eat during the first month.
Biotopes: While there is seasonal variation, one of the favourite biotopes of the capercaillie is forest that lets in sunlight (fir forest with gaps or forest with a mixture of fir and pine) and with blueberry sprigs on the ground. Another favourite is marshy forest with hare’s-tail cottongrass. Large-scale forestry in the northern parts of Sweden has made it more difficult for the capercaillie to find suitable biotopes close to its mating site and this makes the birds move around over much larger areas than is normal in southern Sweden, especially when the seasons change and the capercaillie moves to the biotope of each respective season.
Younger birds have great respect for predators such as the goshawk, fox and marten and they prefer to stay in denser forest even though it is harder to find food there. Predators of the eggs and chicks are the jay, raven, fox, stoat etc. and also badger although they are less common up in the north.
- May-Oct.: hairy wood-rush, hare’s-tail cottongrass, cow wheat, blueberry sprigs, blueberry leaves
- Aug.-Sep.: blueberries, lingonberries, crowberries, bog wortleberries, aspen leaves, sedge seeds
- Summer: insects
- Nov.-May: pine needles
When the capercaillie eats pine needles, it grinds them with the help of small stones which it stores in its craw/gizzard. This is why capercaillie are often seen pecking at stones along the roadside.
The black grouse is smaller than the capercaillie. The rooster weighs 1-1.5 kg; the hen 0-7-1 kg. The black grouse likes to be in places where birch and coniferous forest is blended with meadows, mosses and hilly ground. It is also found in thickets of juniper and on moorland. The black grouse’s diet is similar to that of the capercaillie but in winter, its main feed is birch buds. The black grouse begins its mating displays in the spring and at the end of May, the hen makes a simple nest on the ground and normally lays 6-8 eggs, sometimes more. After ca 3 weeks of brooding, the chicks are hatched in mid-June.
There are two species of grouse in Sweden: willow grouse and ptarmigan. They are similar in appearance although they differ, for instance, in choice of habitat since the ptarmigan prefers to be higher up on the mountain while the willow grouse stays just below the slopes and in the forest.
Mating takes place in the spring. Grouse do not gather together in large mating sites like, for instance, the black grouse and capercaillie. Instead, the grouse roosters protect their territories. The hen lays about ten eggs which she broods for ca 21 days. Breeding success varies from year to year depending on pressure from predators and weather conditions. The main predators are the stoat, fox and corvids. In some years, many chicks die because of cold and rainy weather.
The eating habits of the grouse vary with age, season and habitat. During the first month, the chicks mainly eat insects. Adult grouse and chicks older than one month eat mainly berries and berry sprigs in the summer. In winter they eat birch and willow buds.
The willow grouse has an estimated mortality rate of 90 % from egg to the next breeding season. Predation is probably the most common cause of death.
During the autumn, the grouse moults into a pure white plumage which it has until May. Then during the summer, it moults two or three times as it forms more and more brown feathers. This is to achieve optimal camouflage in its environment for maximum protection against predators.
The hazel grouse is the smallest species of grouse.
The hazel grouse is often found in wetter parts of fir forest, in slightly denser locations that have some foliage, either older forest with trees of different heights or young forests. In both cases, the fir trees provide protection against predators.
During the snow-free period, the hazel grouse feeds mainly on blueberries, lingonberries and young worts. That is why they favour airy fir forest with gaps. In winter, it eats the catkins and buds of deciduous trees, primarily alder. The presence of alder in a forest dominated by firs will benefit the presence and numbers of hazel grouse.
The hazel grouse has its territory and stays within an area of 20-40 hectares over the course of a year. The young birds spread out in September and establish their own territories the same autumn. Hazel grouse live as a couple for most of the year apart from the period when the hen takes care of its young. This is something that distinguishes the hazel grouse from the other grouse whose roosters and hens normally only meet during the mating display.
When hunted, the hazel grouse does not fly very far after being flushed. It lands again in the lower part of a tree after some 30-50 metres.
Only the mountain hare is found in the forests of Lapland. The mountain hare is most active at dusk and during the night and rests during the day, often in a burrow, cleft or in the snow. However, it is more active in daytime during the mating season. It has very good hearing but not so good eyesight, at least not in full daylight. Because of its long rear legs, the hare can only move in leaps. Before going to rest, the mountain hare often retraces its track a little way. Then it leaps to one side. This is repeated a few times to confuse any predators. The hare also uses this technique when it is being hunted. It may also try to shake off pursuing predators by running in damp ground.
The doe bears young 2-3 times a year and gives birth to 1-7 young hares per litter. Each gestation lasts 50 days.