Scotland's Wildlife: Red Grouse

Red grouse. Copyright National Trust for Scotland. Licensor

A stout game bird, the red grouse has long been associated with the heather moors of Britain.

It differentiates itself from other members of the grouse family with its reddish brown plumage and lack of a white winter coat. It sports a black tail and white legs, with white stripes on the underwing and red combs over the eye. Females are not as red as the males and have fewer conspicuous combs, while young birds are duller without red combs.

Males vigorously defend their territory by flying towards the edge of the area and climbing steeply to about 10m. They sail then parachute down on rapidly beating wings, with tail fanned and head and neck extended, then tail drooping to stand bowing at their aggressor.

While its population can fluctuate to extremes, the red grouse has suffered a long-term decline in recent years which is probably due to changes in habitat management and predator numbers. This places it on the amber list of UK birds of conservation concern.

The 'Glorious Twelfth' of August marks the day when the red grouse shooting season begins.

Where to see them
The best place to see red grouse is on upland heather moors, from where it suddenly rockets up from the heather to fly off with fast-whirring wingbeats.

Page first published on Monday 7th April 2008
Page last updated on Friday 17th October 2008

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Latin Name: Lagopus lagopus scoticus
Gaelic Name: Coileach-fraoich (Cock of the heather)
Body length 37-42cm
Wingspan 55-66cm
Weight 450-750g
Physical Description
Small-headed, rotund game bird, slightly larger than the ptarmigan, with short, rectangular wings and tail.
Scottish Distribution
Found on Lewis, Harris, North Uist, scarce from Benbecula southwards. Also local populations on Inner Hebrides, Shetland and Orkneys. On the mainland, they are found in East Fife, West Ayrshire, North Argyll and West Inverness-shire.
Treeless tundra, moors and heaths, wherever heather and berry-bearing dwarf shrubs flourish.
Feeds from the ground. In Britain, this is primarily heather throughout the year. Will also take a variety of berries, new leaves and shoots.
A clutch of 7-9 eggs is laid on the ground in thick vegetation. The female incubates them for 19-25 days. During this time the male acts as a sentinel looking out for predators. Both sexes guard and protect the chicks but if the female is lost the male will raise the brood alone. The chicks are capable of flight after about 12-13 days and are fully grown in 30-35 days.

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