Mountain: the very rare capercaillie, this enigmatic bird under close demographic surveillance

Each year, the capercaillie, also called capercaillie, is counted during the breeding season. This heritage species is in constant decline. If the capercaillie is a huntable species, the last specimen was taken in the department in 2013.

An enigmatic bird, very discreet, shy and suspicious, the capercaillie is a mountain galliform. He usually lives in old open forests, with a well-developed and diverse herbaceous layer, providing it with food and shelter from predators.

The male, weighing up to 4 kilos, is recognizable among all: massive head and neck, bright red wattles, dark plumage with green and mauve reflections, it has a fan tail when displaying. The female is smaller (1.5 to 2.2 kg), redhead barred with black and white, also with wattles.

The female capercaillie, the hen, has 0.5 to 1.5 young per year

For 30 years, there have been fewer and fewer of them in France, the species having even disappeared from the Alps in 2000. On the Pyrenean chain, the numbers were recently assessed at around 2000 individuals, including around 600 in the Pyrénées-Orientales. Each year, the number of roosters in the crowing places where the males gather in the spring to attract the females must be estimated. Under close demographic surveillance, the capercaillie is counted by various partners under the aegis of the Mountain Galliform Observatory (OGM).

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A species in decline

The counts begin at the end of April, the exact period being from April 20 to the end of May, and even until June 10. But the peak extends from May 5 to 25, we are in full song and there we are most likely to have active birds ” precise Jeremy Binder, inspector of the environment at the French Office for Biodiversity (OFB).

Throughout the Pyrenees chain, the capercaillie, subspecies tetrao urogallus aquitanicus is stable or in decline at the margins of its range but remains in hunting plan although classified “vulnerable” on the red list of the International Union for Conservation of Nature. “In the Pyrénées-Orientales, the hunting plan is equal to zero, the last rooster taken was in 2013 but the species is not protected for all that. On the other hand, the female is not huntable. These K-strategic birds have a long lifespan but reproduce very little, from 0.5 to 1.5 young per hen.”

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France is the only European country where capercaillie can still be hunted (with the exception of Sweden, where the animal is still abundant). Lhe deterioration of the habitat (undergrowth which is closed or overgrazed by cattle and deer, etc.), disturbance (tourism, outdoor sports), climate change or even environmental changes (multiplication of predators) mean that the we sitste really to an erosion of the populations. The majority of the actors in the territory who work to maintain the capercaillie would like to see its status evolve and move towards the total protection of this mythical species, as the neighboring countries, Spain and Andorra, have already done.

To know more. Capercaillie by Bernard Leclercq and Emmanuel Menoni. 2018, Biotope Edition

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