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.
The global population is estimated to number > c.40,000,000 individuals (Rich et al. 2004). The European population is estimated at 1,010,000-2,150,000 pairs, which equates to 2,020,000-4,310,000 mature individuals (BirdLife International 2015). Europe forms approximately 15% of the global range, so a very preliminary estimate of the global population size is 13,000,000-28,700,000 mature individuals, although further validation of this estimate is needed.The breeding population in Russia is estimated at c.100,000-1 million breeding pairs (Brazil 2009).
This species is widespread and common. It is suspected to exhibit marked three-fold to five-fold population fluctuations over ten year cycles. However declines have been noted locally owing to over-hunting. The species range has contracted in certain regions such as the Balkans, possibly owing to climatic changes (del Hoyo et al. 1994). In Europe the population size is estimated to be decreasing by 30-49% in 12.6 years (three generations) (BirdLife International 2015).
The species is found primarily in Arctic tundra, extending south in alpine mountain ranges and along or below the tree line, in openings of boreal forest. It prefers low, moderately moist areas with low shrubs, mosses, grasses and herbs avoiding rocky or lichen-rich tundra and steep slopes. Males prefer territories in areas with vegetation lower than eye level and elevated sites such as rocks, trees or hummocks for displaying on. Generally laying occurs in May and June. It normally lays eight to eleven eggs. The nest is a shallow scrape with a thin lining in thick vegetation which usually partially covers it. It feeds on buds and twigs of Salix and birch (Betula) in winter. From spring to autumn leaves and berries of Vaccinium and Empetrum are important parts of its diet. It is sedentary in the U.K. and Scandinavia, only making short-range altitudinal movements, but at least partially migratory elsewhere (de Juana et al. 2016).
The species is hunted everywhere except the Baltic Countries, Belarus and China. In the Russian tundra annual bags estimated at c. 8,000,000 birds (c. 2,000,000 west of the Urals) but professional hunting of the species ceased in Russia at the end of the 20th century (de Juana et al. 2016). The species is less intensively hunted in North America. The species probably tolerates heavy levels of shooting, however in combination with other pressures, such as reductions in habitat quality and extent it can have adverse effects (Madge and McGowan 2002). Important declines in Finland were attributed to excessive hunting. Range contractions in Europe have been attributed to climatic changes (de Juana et al. 2016). It is also vulnerable to collisions with high-tension powerlines and deer fences (Madge and McGowan 2002).
Conservation Actions Underway
The species is protected in the Baltic countries, Belarus and China (Madge and McGowan 2002), elsewhere the setting of hunting seasons and bag limits is generally the only management activity. Monitoring does occur in parts of Europe; In Norway several populations are regularly monitored, whereas in other parts of Fennoscandia and Britain, only some populations are monitored. In Britain, intensive habitat management has increased the density of this species well above natural levels in some areas (Storch 2007). There have been many attempted introductions, although most of them failed, (e.g. scotica in Germany and Belgium and native subspecies in Russia) (de Juana et al. 2016).
Conservation Actions Proposed
Monitoring of populations in areas with potentially high hunting pressures should be undertaken to ensure they are sustainable. Research into the impacts of hunting and habitat alteration on population dynamics should be undertaken. More understanding of its migration and dispersal behaviour and its ability to cope with climate warming in some of its range is needed (Storch 2007).
Text account compilers
Ashpole, J, Butchart, S., Ekstrom, J.
BirdLife International (2019) Species factsheet: Lagopus lagopus. Downloaded from http://www.birdlife.org on 12/12/2019. Recommended citation for factsheets for more than one species: BirdLife International (2019) IUCN Red List for birds. Downloaded from http://www.birdlife.org on 12/12/2019.