Red grouse (Lagopus lagopus)

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Male red grouse
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Red grouse fact file

Red grouse description

KingdomAnimalia
PhylumChordata
ClassAves
OrderGalliformes
FamilyTetraonidae
GenusLagopus

The red grouse Lagopus lagopus scoticus is the British race of the willow grouse (Lagopus l. lagopus), although it was once believed that the red grouse was a distinct species known as Lagopus scoticus, endemic to the British Isles. Red grouse are dumpy birds, predominantly rufous-red in colour with a low whirring flight punctuated with glides. Like all grouse, they have feathered legs, feet and toes. The males have red eyebrow wattles that are not visible at a distance, and are darker than those of the females. The call is very distinctive and consists of a series of guttural barks, accelerating to a sort of deep trill, often ending with a sound resembling “go-back-go-back-go-back”.

Also known as
Willow grouse, Willow ptarmigan.
Size
Length: 33 – 38cm
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Red grouse biology

Male red grouse mark out their territories with an energetic display during which they leap into the air, giving their characteristic ‘go-back-go-back’ call. They compete for an area of moor with plenty of heather and bilberry bushes in which the female will produce a nest scrape for her eggs. These eggs are well camouflaged, laid in April and may number ten or more. The chicks hatch after about three weeks, and are fed by both birds for six weeks. They can fly after 13 days.

Red grouse have been a quarry species for years, but the sport only became a source of lucrative business when the breech-loading gun was invented in the mid 19th century, and the railways provided access to the moors. The ‘Glorious twelfth’ of August, the opening of the grouse-shooting season, was apparently chosen to fit in with the parliamentary summer recess, as well as the birds’ breeding season.

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Red grouse range

Red grouse are found in north western parts of upland England, Wales, Scotland and Ireland. The related willow grouse ranges throughout the northern boreal forests, in Scandinavia, Finland, Karelia and northern Russia.

You can view distribution information for this species at the National Biodiversity Network Gateway.
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Red grouse habitat

Willow grouse are birds of the northern pine and birch forests, heather tundra and mountain slopes. Red grouse are found on open moorland, preferably with heather, and no woodland.

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Red grouse status

The red grouse is classified as Least Concern (LC) on the IUCN Red List (1). Not protected (game species), in the UK. Included in the Birds of Conservation Concern Amber List (medium conservation concern).

IUCN Red List species status – Least Concern

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Red grouse threats

The Game Conservancy Trust has studied long-term records of red grouse populations, which indicate that the species has been in decline for some decades. In part, this has been caused by a reduction in game keeping on the moors, with more birds lost to predators such as foxes and crows. But there has also been a change in moorland management, leading to degradation of the habitat and a loss of the heather on which the birds rely for food.

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Red grouse conservation

The successful conservation of any species is largely determined by proper management of its habitat. The red grouse is a good example of a species which has declined through a lack of suitable habitat management. In the last 50 years the uplands have lost 20-40% of heather and semi-natural scrub to commercial forestry and over-grazing, particularly by sheep. Upland moorland, especially moorland covered by heather, is a scarce habitat and considered internationally important. It supports a number of uncommon bird species including hen harrier, golden eagle, dotterel and ptarmigan, as well as red grouse.

The Game Conservancy Trust is encouraging the take-up of traditional moorland habitat management in order to restore grouse numbers to respectable levels. While there are many who dislike the practise of shooting for sport, management for red grouse aims to protect the species in a sustainable way, and preserve a habitat rich in unusual plants, mammals and birds. At the same time, there is a review of the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP), which is aiming to reduce upland grazing levels in an effort to reduce pressure on red grouse habitat.

View information on this species at the UNEP World Conservation Monitoring Centre.
There may be further information about this species available via the National Biodiversity Network Gateway.
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Find out more

For more on the Game Conservancy Trust:
http://www.gct.org.uk

For more information on the red grouse and other bird species:

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Authentication

This information is awaiting authentication by a species expert, and will be updated as soon as possible. If you are able to help please contact:
arkive@wildscreen.org.uk

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Glossary

Endemic
A species or taxonomic group that is only found in one particular country or geographic area.
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References

  1. IUCN Red List (April, 2011)
    http://www.iucnredlist.org/
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Image credit

Male red grouse  
Male red grouse

© Mark Hamblin / gettyimages.com

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Listen to the Red grouse

Male red grouse
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Red grouse recordings by Michael J. Andersen and Gerrit Vyn

© Cornell Lab of Ornithology

Macaulay Library
Cornell Lab of Ornithology
159 Sapsucker Woods Road
Ithaca
New York 14850
United States of America
Tel: +1 (607) 254-2404
Fax: +1 (607) 254-2439
Email: macaulaylibrary@cornell.edu
Website: www.birds.cornell.edu/MacaulayLibrary

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