Tetrao urogallus (Linnaeus, 1758) CP CAPER 3350
Family: Galliformes > Phasianidae

Capercaillie, Ian Hay

This very large bird, now confined to the pine forests of northern Scotland, once had a wider distribution within Britain & Ireland

A male Capercaillie, with his red eye surround, bone-coloured beak, and beautiful dark plumage, is about a third larger than the more cryptically-coloured hen. Often occurring at low density within extensive areas of pine forest, this is a challenging bird to see and to study.

Capercaillie numbers and range have undergone significant declines here since the 1970s, with a number of factors - including changes in forest habitat and increased levels of predation and disturbance - implicated in the decline.


Capercaillie identification is usually straightforward. The following article may help when identifying Capercaillie.

related video

Identifying Grouse

Grouse are classic birds of upland and wild habitats. Males are relatively easy to separate but females and distant birds can be much more difficult. Using plumage, habitat and habit clues we can tell them apart, however. Let this video help you confidently tell Red Grouse, Ptarmigan, Black Grouse and Capercaillie apart.


Listen to example recordings of the main vocalisations of Capercaillie, provided by xeno-canto contributors.



Develop your bird ID skills with our training courses

Our interactive online courses are a great way to develop your bird identification skills, whether you're new to the hobby or a competent birder looking to hone your abilities.

Browse training courses

Status and Trends

Population size and trends and patterns of distribution based on BTO surveys and atlases with data collected by BTO volunteers.


This species can be found on the following statutory and conservation listings and schedules.



This species was reintroduced to Scotland in the 1830s having gone extinct in eighteenth century (Ritchie 1920). Substantial declines are believed to have occurred between the 1970s and early 1990s (Moss 1994). Capercaillie have subsequently been monitored by single-species surveys which take place during winter and these show a further decline from an estimate of 2,200 individuals during the first survey in 1992–94 (Catt et al. 1998) to 1,114 birds in winter 2015/16 (Wilkinson et al. 2018). A sixth national survey was due to take place in winter 2021/22 (Eaton et al. 2021). The Atlas maps show that a range decline has also occurred, from 182 10-km squares during the breeding season in 1968-72 to 51 squares in 2007-11 (Balmer et al. 2013).


Capercaillies are confined to pine forests in the north of Scotland. As a resident species and fairly sedentary, the distribution maps for the winter and breeding season are broadly similar. They highlight the core areas in Easter Ross, Strathspey and Aberdeenshire. Only a few other occupied sites remain outwith this area, in Inverness-shire, Perthshire and Dunbartonshire.

Occupied 10-km squares in UK

European Distribution Map

European Breeding Bird Atlas 2


A large decline in Capercaillie numbers is manifested in a 55% decrease in the number of occupied 10-km squares since the 1981–84 Winter Atlas, and a 73% reduction in range size in the breeding season since the 1970s.

Change in occupied 10-km squares in the UK


Capercaillies are an elusive and declining bird, recorded sporadically throughout the year.

Weekly occurence of Capercaillie from BirdTrack
Weekly occurrence patterns (shaded cells) and reporting rates (vertical bars) based on BirdTrack data. Reporting rates give the likelihood of encountering the species each week.


Information about movement and migration based on online bird portals (e.g. BirdTrack), Ringing schemes and tracking studies.


View a summary of recoveries in the Online Ringing Report.


Lifecycle and body size information about Capercaillie, including statistics on nesting, eggs and lifespan based on BTO ringing and nest recording data.



View number ringed each year in the Online Ringing Report


Feather measurements and photos on featherbase


For information in another language (where available) click on a linked name

Gaelic: Capall-coille
Catalan: gall fer comú
Czech: tetrev hlušec
Danish: Tjur
Dutch: Auerhoen
Estonian: metsis e. mõtus
Finnish: metso
French: Grand Tétras
German: Auerhuhn
Hungarian: siketfajd
Icelandic: Þiður
Irish: Capall Coille
Italian: Gallo cedrone
Latvian: mednis
Lithuanian: vakarinis kurtinys
Norwegian: Storfugl
Polish: gluszec (zwyczajny)
Portuguese: tetraz-real
Slovak: hluchán hôrny
Slovenian: divji petelin
Spanish: Urogallo común
Swedish: tjäder


Interpretation and scientific publications about Capercaillie from BTO scientists.


Causes of change

Factors which are believed to have contributed to the decline include lower breeding productivity as a result of changes to the climate (in particular delayed spring weather), and increased mortality, in particular from collisions with deer fences (Moss et al. 2000, 2001; see also summary paragraph in Wilkinson et al. 2018). Conservation action to prevent collisions by removing or marking fences has been shown to be successful at reducing mortality (Baines & Andrew 2003; Summers et al. 2010).

Information about conservation actions

Lots of info on possible conservation actions in Wilkinson et al. 2018

Links to more information from

Would you like to search for another species?