Big, bubbly-voiced and pumped-up with pine energy: that’s part of the profile of a capercaillie. This massive woodland grouse died out in Scotland in the 1700s, was re-introduced in the 19th century and is still quite rare. But its sheer size can make even a lone ‘caper’ quite visible if you know what to look for.
What to look for
An adult capercaillie is the size of a large turkey. So if one flies off, you might hear crashing of branches. Look for silhouettes of birds up pine trees in likely woods, for heads poking above deep heather and blaeberry and for large droppings, stuffed with pine needles, on tracks. Males have glossy black plumage, females are camouflaged grey/brown/yellow.
No other bird in the world makes as much use of pine needles as the capercaillie. The adult’s diet is needle-rich, while chicks get a protein boost from eating moth caterpillars on the woodland floor. Both adults and young relish berries such as blaeberry.
When and where to see
The spring and summer displays of capercaillie at ‘lek’ sites get a lot of attention. But unless you’re going on an officially organised watch (see below), it’s best to avoid leks (less disturbance to the birds). Late summer and autumn - once broods have fledged - can be excellent times for seeing caper. The number of birds is at an annual peak, and you won’t cause them so much hassle by walking quietly through a promising wood.