The Red Grouse or Lagopus lagopus scoticus, is a medium sized, thickset game bird and can be encountered on higher moorland and mountain slopes. Although they do spend alot of time on the ground when they do take to the air they fly on stiff rounded wings. Being mainly vegetarian they eat the tips and young shoots of Heather. They will take insects during the summer.
Distribution and habitatEdit
The Red Grouse is endemic to the British Isles; it has developed in isolation from other subspecies of the Willow Grouse which are widespread in northern parts of Eurasia and North America.
It is found across most parts of Scotland, including Orkney, Shetland and most of the Outer Hebrides. They are only absent from urban areas, such as the central belt, the flatter areas of the north-east and around Fife.
In Wales there are strong populations in places but their range has retracted. They are now largely absent from the far south, their main strongholds being Snowdonia, the Brecon Beacons and the Cambrian Mountains. There are reports of Welsh birds crossing the Bristol Channel to Exmoor.
In England it is mainly found in the north - places such as the Lake District, Northumberland, County Durham, much of Yorkshire, the Pennines and the Peak District, as far south as the Staffordshire Moorlands. There is an isolated introduced population on Dartmoor, and overspill Welsh birds visit the Shropshire Hills such as Long Mynd, where they breed. The Exmoor population would now appear to be extinct, with the last birds sighted as recently as 2005. An introduced population in Suffolk died out by the early 20th century, though a population on Cannock Chase in Staffordshire lasted longer.
In Ireland it is found locally in most parts of the country.
Its typical habitat is upland heather moors away from trees. It can also be found in some low-lying bogs and birds may visit farmland during hard weather.
The British population is estimated at about 250,000 pairs with around 1-5,000 pairs in Ireland. Numbers have declined in recent years and birds are now absent in areas where they were once common. Reasons for the decline include loss of heather due to overgrazing, creation of new conifer plantations and a decline in the number of upland gamekeepers. Some predators such as the Hen Harrier feed on grouse and there is ongoing controversy as to what effect these have on grouse numbers.
Red Grouse have been introduced to the Hautes Fagnes region of Belgium but the population there died out in the early 1970s.
The Red Grouse is herbivorous and feeds mainly on the shoots, seeds and flowers of heather. It will also feed on berries, cereal crops and sometimes insects.
The birds begin to form pairs during the autumn and males become increasingly territorial as winter progresses. The nest is a shallow scrape up to 20 cm across which is lined with vegetation. About six to nine eggs are laid, mainly during April and May. They are oval, glossy and pale yellow with dark brown blotches. The eggs are incubated for 19 to 25 days, the chicks can fly after 12 to 13 days after hatching and are fully grown after 30 to 35 days.
The Red Grouse and humansEdit
The Red Grouse is considered a game bird and is shot in large numbers during the shooting season which traditionally starts on the 12th of August, known as the Glorious Twelfth. Until then, they are heavily guarded by gamekeepers against predatory animals such as foxes, stoats and corvids.
Shooting can take the form of 'walked up' (where shooters walk across the moor to flush grouse and take a shot) or 'driven' (where grouse are driven, often in large numbers. by 'beaters' towards the guns who are hiding behind a line of 'butts'). Many moors are managed to increase the density of grouse. Areas of heather are subjected to controlled burning; this allows fresh young shoots to regenerate, which are favoured by the grouse. Extensive predator control is a feature of grouse moor management: foxes, stoats and crows are usually heavily controlled on grouse moors.
Often, protected species such as raptors can also fall foul of illegal control. However, this is a controversial topic and the extent to which it occurs on grouse moors is contested between conservation groups and shooting interests. It is nevertheless a topic that generates a lot of media attention in relation to grouse moors and shooting. It is widely accepted by conservationists that the gamekeepers who illegally kill protected raptors are in the minority, and not the majority, and incidents are condemned by the shooting community.
In recent decades the practice of using of medicated grit and direct dosing of birds against an endoparasite, the strongyle worm or Threadworm (Thrichostrongylus tenuis), has become part of the management regime on many moors.
Due to their economic and social importance and some interesting aspects of their biology, red grouse have been widely studied. They were the subject of some of the earliest studies of population biology in birds, as detailed in The Grouse in Health and in Disease by Lord Lovat in 1911. Since the mid-20th century they have been subject to ongoing study by many organisations and individuals. Much work has been conducted by the Institute of Terrestrial Ecology in the eastern Cairngorms, and by the Game & Wildlife Conservation Trust in the Central Highlands. There are a wide range of research activities still going on today and a wealth of published literature exists on all aspects of grouse biology.
The Red Grouse is widely known as the logo of The Famous Grouse whisky and an animated bird is a character in a series of its adverts. The Red Grouse is also the emblem of the journal British Birds.
Parasites and virusesEdit
The Red Grouse may be infected by parasites and viruses which severely affect populations. Strongylosis or 'grouse disease' is caused by the strongyle worm, it induces damage and internal bleeding after burrowing into the cecum. This endoparasite is often eaten with the tops of young heather shoots and can lead to mortality and poor condition, including a decrease in the bird's ability to control the scent it emits.
Louping ill virus is a flavivirus (RNA virus), also known as sheep encephalomyelitis virus. Flaviviruses are transmitted by arthropods, and louping ill virus is transmitted by ticks. In red grouse, this virus can cause mortality as high as 78%. The main tick vector is the sheep tick, Ixodes ricinus. Although traditionally tick-borne diseases are thought to be caused when the parasite bites its host, it has been shown that red grouse chicks can be affected when they eat ticks with which they come into contact. This virus may be a significant factor in Red Grouse populations
Voice: Nasal, bouncing barks. A classic 'Go back, go back call'
Flight: Rapid flight on stiff wings, interrupted by glides