Bird Description and History

The name Capercaillie is thought to come from the Gaelic Capull, meaning  horse (or, more accurately, a mare), and Coille, the genitive of coll, a wood, together giving "Horse of the Woods".  The earliest recorded mention of the Capercaillie appears to be by the Scotish historian Hector Boethius (also known as Boece) who published his "History of Scotland" in 1526.

Taylor, the water-poet, in his Visit to the Brea of Marr (Works, London: 1630, page 135) mentions, "caperkellies" among the meats provided for the guests of Lord Erskine in 1618; and The Black Book of Taymouth tells (pages 433 and 434) of one that was sent in 1651 by the laird of Glenorchy to King Charles II, who, being then at Perth, "accepted it weel as a raretie, for he had never seen any of them."

The Capercaillie is currently in danger of being wiped out in the UK for the second time in its history.  It first disappeared from existence in the UK around 1784.  Stephens in his continuation of Shaw's General Zoology (ix. p. 268), writing in 1819 says that Montagu was present "when one was killed near the upper end of Loch Lomond about thirty-five years since."   This would mean that the species survived until about 1784, although the incident is not mentioned by Montagu in his own work, and the assertion may be doubtful.  The capercaillie was first reintroduced to the UK in 1837.

It was stated in The Zoologist for 1879 (page 468) that its bones had been found among Roman remains at Settle in Yorkshire, though the authority for their determination was not given. A considerable number of bones were found in the 19th Century by Mr James Backhouse in caves that he was investigating in Teesdale.  The remains were those of both sexes, and were sufficiently numerous to show that the species had been common in the neighborhood, and had contributed considerably to the food of the people who in a prehistoric age used the caves as dwellings.

Capercaillie Description

The Capercaillie is the Tetrao urogallus species of the Tetrao genus within the Tetraonidae family.  It is also known as the Wood Grouse.

The female measures from 54 to 63 cm length with a wingspan of around 90 cm.  The male is usually between 74 to 90 cm with a 60cm wingspan.  The male can weigh up to 4-5kg, with the female weigghing around 2.5 kg.  The color of the plumage is characteristicaly different between the genders. The males are grey, and the wings are brownish.  The majority of the breast in the male is greenish with a strong metallic glossy effect.  The females are of reddish color with brown and milky spots.

Its main habitat covers primarily the taiga of north and Eastern Europe, and coniferous forest zones of the alps and low mountain ranges where there is abundant herbaceous vegetation, water and berries. Usually it sleeps in the horizontal branches of the trees.

It is a bird that follows two types of seasonal diets. In summer it is a terrestrial-feeding bird that feeds itself on grass, ants, acorns, berries, small lizards and even snakes.  During the winter it becomes an arboreal bird and pine needles constitute the main food.

The hens use a hole in the ground in which to lay her eggs which number between five and twelve eggs.  The eggs are yellowish with lightly brown blots.  Unfortunately the location of the newly hatched chicks makes them easy prey for wild boars, dogs and similar predators, resulting in a very slow increase in population.


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