Black Grouse

Latin name: Tetrao tetrix

Black grouse are probably best known for their elaborate springtime courtship displays. During this ritual, the males gather at traditional communal display sites known as leks in March. Here they perform with their wings drooped and their tail fanned out. This display is accompanied by a loud dove-like cooing and a bubbling call that is intended to attract females.

The peak of the lekking activity usually occurs around dawn and to a lesser extent at dusk. The females that are attracted to the lek will normally mate with a dominant male and then disperse to the surrounding area to raise their young on their own.

Within the Yorkshire Dales National Park, the black grouse can be found on the moorland fringe and favours a range of different habitats including rough grassland, pastures, heather moorland, hay meadows and scrub woodland.

Only a few decades ago, black grouse were widespread in the Yorkshire Dales with small populations occurring where there were suitable areas of habitat along the moorland edge. The population increased in the late 1970s and early 1980s when recently planted conifer plantations provided ideal nesting and chick rearing habitats. However, the increase was only temporary. As the conifer canopy closed, the plantations became unsuitable habitats for the black grouse and the population declined in line with national and regional trends.

At risk?

Following widespread population declines across many areas of northern England, the North Pennines Black Grouse Recovery Project was created. Since the start of the project, the decline in the north of England has been halted and the results of positive management work have led to an increase in population size. The RSPB has allocated a Red conservation status to the black grouse.

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The unfolding of Grass Wood throughout the year is a story of rich fulfilment. From 'Wharfedale' by Ella Pontefract & Marie Hartley

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