The Black Grouse is actually a bird in a critical status regarding numbers. So it was wonderful to see at least 20 of them feeding happily in a field whilst on a recent journey through the Durham Dales.
When you see them the males are unmistakable. The black (almost dark blue in certain light) plumage with white underfeathers (look fantastic when in flight) and the deep red wattle over each eye.
The females are completely different, and there was one pottering about, feeding amongst the males. In Spring, the Black Grouse is one of the few species that do ‘lekking’. This is were the Black Grouse populations gather at traditional spots in the open and gather with the female at the centre.
The ‘lek’ involves the males opening out and raising their long, lyre-shaped tails to show the white feathers that are underneath, they vocalise with bubbling and rasping sounds at the same time as rushing and strutting at each other in a fascinating display ritual. The more dominant males are in the centre of the lek and the noises and displays attract the hens.
Unfortunately the population of the Black Grouse has drastically reduced over the last Century throughout Europe. In UK they used to be commonplace throughout the countryside from the south all the way north.
Now the small numbers are restricted to North Wales, Scotland and in England just here in the North Pennines. Since the 1960s their numbers dropping by up to 40% a year! The main problem seems to be chick survival rates.
In the North Pennines and the Durham Dales there has been some very careful conservation with some very gradual results. There is no quick fix as you can imagine but in this area the numbers are thought to have increased to around 850 males.
It was a wonderful added bonus on my wanders and discoveries of the area. Must make a point to go back in lekking season and watch the displays.