Western Capercaillie Tetrao urogallus


Justification of Red List Category
This species has an extremely large range, and hence does not approach the thresholds for Vulnerable under the range size criterion (Extent of Occurrence <20,000 km2 combined with a declining or fluctuating range size, habitat extent/quality, or population size and a small number of locations or severe fragmentation). Despite the fact that the population trend appears to be decreasing, the decline is not believed to be sufficiently rapid to approach the thresholds for Vulnerable under the population trend criterion (>30% decline over ten years or three generations). The population size is extremely large, and hence does not approach the thresholds for Vulnerable under the population size criterion (<10,000 mature individuals with a continuing decline estimated to be >10% in ten years or three generations, or with a specified population structure). For these reasons the species is evaluated as Least Concern.

Population justification
The European population is estimated at 666,000-1,060,000 calling or lekking males, which equates to 1,330,000-2,110,000 mature individuals (BirdLife International 2015). Europe forms approximately 40% of the global range, so a very preliminary estimate of the global population size is 3,325,000-5,275,000 mature individuals. The population is therefore placed in the band 3,000,000-5,499,999 mature individuals.

Trend justification
The population is estimated to be declining owing to habitat destruction and alteration. Considerable range contraction has occurred in the east and west of the species's range, resulting in local extinctions (Madge and McGowan 2002). In Europe the population is estimated to be increasing (BirdLife International 2015).


The following information refers to the species's range within Europe. The species inhabits forest and woodland, mainly coniferous or mixed coniferous deciduous (de Juana and Kirwan 2012). It prefers extensive areas of old, shady forest often with damp soil and interspersed with bogs, areas of peat or glades, and with a dense undergrowth of ericaceous plants (Vaccinium, Calluna) but with canopy neither too open or closed (Madge and McGowan 2002). It may use more open forest in winter and denser forest with abundant fruit bushes in summer. Males form ill-defined leks (de Juana and Kirwan 2012). It lays from mid-April to mid-June but with most laying in May. It lays six to nine eggs (Madge and McGowan 2002). The nest is a shallow depression lined with plant material or feathers and it is found in thick cover often at the base of a tree (Harrison and Castell 2002). In northern parts of its range it feeds predominantly on pine needles during the winter. In southern parts of the range its winter diet is more varied. In summer its diet includes needles, leaves, stems and berries of a variety of plants. Insects are only important in the diet of small chicks. It is mainly sedentary with local movements in winter in response to feeding requirements (de Juana and Kirwan 2012).


The main threat to this species is destruction or alteration of its woodland habitat. It is still commonly heavily hunted (even during breeding season), except in SW and C Europe. Other factors possibly involved in declines include disturbance (e.g. development of ski facilities and other winter recreation activities), collisions (especially of juveniles) with high-tension powerlines and in some areas fences, predation (e.g. by foxes), pollution (acid rain) and climatic changes, (e.g. in Scotland) (de Juana and Kirwan 2012).

Conservation actions

Conservation Actions Underway
In general the species is fully and effectively protected in western and central Europe. In countries such as Austria, Italy and France, hunting is allowed in certain areas and strictly regulated, however in eastern and southern Europe illegal hunting may be having a serious impact on the population. A small proportion of the species range is covered by protected areas, however these are only important where populations are particularly threatened by habitat degradation and poaching. In central and western Europe, the Natura 2000 network cover large parts of the species's range. Surveys or monitoring occur regularly for planning harvests or in regions with small remnant populations. Habitat management is thought to be the most important conservation tool for this species and a good example is ongoing in Scotland within the EU Life Programme. There have been many reintroduction attempts over the years, although most have failed (Storch 2007). In Scotland, it went extinct from 1785 but was successfully reintroduced in 1836–1837. However, countrywide numbers estimated at c. 1980 birds in winter 2003/04, and it is declining. Guidelines have been proposed in the U.K. for buffer zones around leks and breeding areas (de Juana and Kirwan 2013).

Conservation Actions Proposed
The integration of forestry practices and species conservation is needed to help maintain the large areas of open forest and maintain and restore spatial connection among populations. In addition, all development should be banned where populations are threatened. Human disturbance should be reduced, particularly in areas with small or threatened populations. The reduction of collision mortality could be achieved through the removal, relocation and visualization by marking of power lines, cables and deer and sheep fences. Better law enforcement is needed locally in areas where it is threatened by poaching. Monitoring programmes and research on larger-scale habitat relationships, predation patterns and population dynamics, minimum requirements in population size and in habitat area and connections should be undertaken (Storch 2007).


Text account compilers
Ashpole, J, Butchart, S., Ekstrom, J.

Recommended citation
BirdLife International (2022) Species factsheet: Tetrao urogallus. Downloaded from on 18/01/2022. Recommended citation for factsheets for more than one species: BirdLife International (2022) IUCN Red List for birds. Downloaded from on 18/01/2022.