The Black Grouse of Durham

Black grouse are distinctive looking gamebirds of northern Europe’s woodland and moorland.

Male black grouse put on an impressive display in the breeding season. At dawn, the males gather (on a Lek) to inflate their necks, raise their tails and make a distinctive sound; a far carrying, dove-like, rolling coo with a regular rhythm and explosive ‘sneeze’. At stake is the chance to mate with more of the watching females than any of the other males.

Black grouse are also known as blackcocks and greyhens, because of the colour of the male and female birds respectively.

Males or ‘blackcocks’ are very distinctive, with glossy blue-black plumage and red wattles (the bright red patches over each eye), white bars on the wings (seen only in flight), and curved black tail feathers. When displaying, these feathers are fanned, giving the tail a lyre shape and exposing the striking white under-tail coverts.

Females or ‘greyhens’ are much more cryptic (well-camouflaged), to reduce the chance of being seen when nesting or feeding on the ground. Their reddish brown plumage has dark bars, the tail is slightly notched and the white wing bars are narrower than on males, so less obvious.

Young black grouse eat spiders and insects; adult birds are primarily vegetarian.