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Wildlife in Moray: Don’t ruin Capercaillie romance

By Alistair Whitfield

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Walkers and photographers are being urged not to disturb endangered capercaillie during their critical breeding season.

Capercaillie in the Cairngorms. Picture: Mark Hamblin
Capercaillie in the Cairngorms. Picture: Mark Hamblin

About the same size as a turkey, and not dissimilar in looks, the capercaillie is Scotland’s national bird. However only 532 now remain – and the Cairngorms is their last stronghold.

The Cairngorms Capercaillie Project has today announced the return of its ‘Lek It Be’ campaign, which is asking people to resist the temptation to go looking for the birds.

The danger lies in disturbing their famously elaborate and long-winded mating rituals.

Capercaillie foreplay takes place at dawn in forest clearings known as ‘leks’, the old Norse word for ‘play’.

With the females looking on admiringly, the males strut about making bizarre clicking noises with their beaks.

After a good deal of that, they then fan out their impressive tail feathers and strut around some more.

However any disturbance at all will cause the females to fly off, possibly not to return that season.

Carolyn Robertson, who heads up the Cairngorms Capercaillie Project, said: “This spring, we’re simply asking birdwatchers, photographers and wildlife guides to keep up the good work and continue to leave capercaillie in peace.

“We can all play a role in helping the birds to breed successfully.”

The project is expressing immense gratitude for the widespread support it received from most people last spring.

However, with the bird’s numbers so critically low, it is urging the public to report any deliberate disturbances.

PC Dan Sutherland, a wildlife crime office, said: “It’s a criminal offence to disturb capercaillie while they are breeding or with dependent young.

“To ensure compliance with the law we will be conducting dawn patrols around lek sites again this spring."

Cairngorms Rangers will be on hand from dawn to offer alternative capercaillie-friendly routes for anyone looking to see other forest species at first light.

Social media will also be monitored to discourage the online sharing of capercaillie images or information about their lek sites.

Until recently, capercaillie numbers had been in rapid decline. Back in the early 1990s there were estimated to be anywhere between 1000 and 2000.

For more information, visit lekitbe.scot

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