Iconic Scottish bird continues to thrive in Highland Perthshire

Lauren Shannon

Wednesday 29 March 2017

Last year in highland Perthshire, one of Scotland's most iconic birds, the black grouse, had another successful year and people have the opportunity to go to special events to see them this spring.

The Perthshire Black Grouse Study Group has been monitoring the black grouse population in highland Perthshire since 1990. Thirty dedicated volunteers1 check all suitable habitat and count numbers of black grouse within seven 10 km squares. That's an area of 70,000 hectares, roughly spanning across from Kinloch Rannoch to Kirkmichael and from Aberfeldy up to Blair Atholl. Between mid-March and mid-May, volunteers make at least two visits at dawn to count 'lekking' males2 providing crucial information about how well the birds are doing.

This spring, RSPB Scotland, the John Muir Trust and Dun Coillich Project will be running lek viewing events near Schiehallion to offer people the chance to see these magnificent birds.

Lauren Shannon, RSPB Scotland Community Engagement Officer said: "Watching a black grouse lek is a must see wildlife experience - with extravagant displays and competitive sparring amid bubbling calls that carry across the hill. These partnership events are a great chance to see this impressive lekking display and learn more about it."

Despite national declines in numbers of black grouse, in highland Perthshire they have bounced back and numbers have been increasing since 2002. The area is now a stronghold for this species due to its mosaic of habitats with recent studies showing that they are responding well to native tree planting in the region3.

In 2016, 545 males were recorded at 77 leks, compared to 676 males in 2015 which was the second highest count since 1993. A slight fall in numbers is not unusual and is often due to wet weather in previous years that reduces how many chicks survive to become adults4. The largest lek recorded within the study area in 2016 was at Dun Coillich and held 42 males.

Claire Smith, RSPB Scotland Senior Conservation Officer and a member of the Study Group said: "It's great that estates and land managers have put a range of measures in place to benefit black grouse which are doing so well in Perthshire. We are very fortunate to have such amazing long-term information thanks to the hard work by volunteers within the study group, five of which have been involved since it started in 1990."

The black grouse events will take place on Wednesday 29 March from 7 - 8.30 pm, Sunday 2 April from 6 - 7.30 am and Sunday 23 April from 5.30 - 7 am. The events involve a short walk to the viewing area and cost £4 per adult (children go free) with a hot drink provided at the end. Places are limited and booking is essential. To book or for more information, please phone 01738 630783 or email perth.admin@rspb.org.uk.

The walks will start from the Braes of Foss car park which is approximately a mile west, off the B846 between Tummel Bridge and Aberfeldy at Tomphubil. The nearest postcode is PH16 5NN. There is a £2 car parking charge.

1. The study group volunteers are made up of local birdwatchers, Estate staff, Game and Wildlife Conservation Trust staff and students, along with Forestry Commission Scotland, Scottish Natural Heritage and RSPB Scotland staff.

2. Black grouse are one of only three British bird species that exhibit lekking behaviour. In spring, birds congregate at traditional lek sites (display grounds). The males compete with each other for best position to display themselves within the lek; dominant males tend to occupy central sites. The bubbling calls and the posturing of the males (cocks) attract females (hens), who will watch the displays before choosing their mate. The dominant males will mate with the most females.

3. Habitat management needs to involve whole, integrated landscapes rather than single habitats. Changes in farming policies to promote low-intensity mixed farming, a reduction in grazing intensity, removal of deer fencing, management of the deer population and sympathetic forest management, or even restructuring of plantation forests could all benefit black grouse.

4. The numbers of black grouse recorded are counts of adult birds and so are indicative of the success of the previous year's breeding.

5. The RSPB is the UK's largest nature conservation charity, inspiring everyone to give nature a home. Together with our partners, we protect threatened birds and wildlife so our towns, coast and countryside will teem with life once again. We play a leading role in BirdLife International, a worldwide partnership of nature conservation organisations.

Last Updated: Tuesday 28 August 2018

Tagged with: Topic: Birds and wildlife