Apr 21

The capercaillie remains under serious threat in Scotland, despite intensive conservation efforts to save the species, according to newly released figures from RSPB Scotland and Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH).

Photo of male capercaillie displaying

Male capercaillie displaying

A second extinction?

One of Scotland’s most iconic bird species, the capercaillie went extinct in the UK in the early 18th Century, but was reintroduced to Scotland in the 1830s.

The most recent survey of the capercaillie population has revealed worrying trends, with an estimated 1,228 individuals thought to remain at just a few locations. Data shows that almost three-quarters of capercaillies in Scotland are restricted to just two major strongholds, Badenoch and Strathspey.

Since the 1970s, capercaillie numbers have declined sharply, falling drastically from around 20,000 individuals to around 1,908 birds in 2004. Despite targeted conservation action for the capercaillie, the newest figures show a continued decline, sparking worry amongst conservationists working to protect the species from a second UK extinction.

Photo of male capercaillie displaying

Concerted conservation efforts

Current conservation work involves efforts to create or improve areas of its favoured habitat and to minimise disturbance to the species at leks and breeding sites, as well as legal predator control. Other measures include removing or marking fences around key capercaillie sites to prevent collisions, which have been identified as significantly increasing adult capercaillie mortality.

Management and conservation action is carried out as part of the capercaillie Species Action Framework (SAF) and the Scottish Rural Development Programme (SRDP), in cooperation with private landowners, countryside users, and conservationists, supported by the Scottish Government.

Stuart Housden, Director of RSPB Scotland, said, “It is disappointing that the capercaillie has experienced a drop in its numbers in some areas since the last survey was conducted. However, there can be little doubt that this decline would be a good deal worse were it not for all the huge efforts of many public and private forestry managers, gamekeepers and land managers backed by the European LIFE funding programme, to save this charismatic species.”

Photo of female capercaillie in threat posture

Female capercaillie in threat posture

“We particularly need to focus our efforts on further habitat creation and positive management for this species, especially in key areas like Deeside and Perthshire where the problems are most acute,” continues Mr. Housden.

Find out more about RSPB Scotland and Scottish National Heritage

Find out more about the capercaillie on ARKive

Helen Roddis, ARKive Species Text Author