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Spike in numbers for iconic Scottish bird

Last modified: 04 November 2014

Black grouse displaying at lek at dawn

Image: Chris Gomersall

In highland Perthshire, this year the numbers of one of Scotland’s most iconic birds, the black grouse, were the second highest since 1993 and up more than 20% from last year, it was announced today.

The Perthshire Black Grouse Study Group has been monitoring the black grouse population in highland Perthshire since 1990. This group of dedicated volunteers check all suitable habitat and count all black grouse within seven 10 km squares (70,000 hectares). They make at least two visits to count displaying or ‘lekking’ males [note 1] at dawn between mid-March and mid-May, providing crucial information about how well the birds are doing.

Despite national declines in numbers of black grouse, in Perthshire they have bounced back and the area is now a stronghold for this species. Across the county, numbers declined during the 1990s, but have been increasing since 2002. The group also recorded a slump in numbers in 2012 and 2013, probably due to wet Junes in 2011 and 2012reducing how many chicks survived to become adults [note 2]. 

However, in 2014, 550 males were recorded at 92 leks (display grounds). This is the second highest count since 1993 with numbers up 23.3% on last year’s figures and seven more leks had birds than in 2013. The largest lek recorded within the study area held 29 males, but just outside the study group area one lek supported 37 males.

A drier June in 2013 is likely to be partly responsible for the higher number of birds at leks and Perthshire’s mosaic of habitats benefits the birds.

Claire Smith is a member of the Study Group and a Conservation Officer for RSPB Scotland will be giving a talk about black grouse on 13 November. She said: “I hope that lots of people will be able to make it to the talk. It’s great that black grouse are doing so well in Perthshire and we hope it continues. Estates and land managers have put a range of measures in place to benefit black grouse and we are fortunate to have such amazing long-term information from the hard work by volunteers within the group.”

In 2014, 24 volunteers made up of local birdwatchers, Estate staff, Game and Wildlife Conservation Trust staff and students, Forestry Commission Scotland, Scottish Natural Heritage and RSPB Scotland staff, helped with the count. Five of these volunteers have been involved in counting since 1990. If you would like to know more about volunteering on the project please call 01738 630783 or come along to the talk on 13 November.

The talk on Perthshire black grouse by Claire Smith (RSPB Scotland) will take place at 7pm on Thursday 13 November at Scottish Wildlife Trust’s Loch of the Lowes reserve.

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