Footage shows endangered black grouse mating ritual on shooting range

The black grouse is one of the fastest declining birds in the UK and have moved further north due to climate change.

Black grouse mating
Black grouse mating

Video footage has shown an elaborate mating ritual between two endangered black grouse competing for female attention at a military shooting range.

The firing range at Garelochhead Training Centre, Argyll and Bute, has been a magnet for birds attracted to the short grassland where they fight with one another – known as a “lek” – in a bid to get the attention of females watching in long grassland.

Owned by the Defence Infrastructure Organisation (DIO), the centre and surrounding uplands provided a habitat for the striking birds, which have distinctive red eyebrows and white under-tail feathers and make a “rookooing” sound during the mating ritual, which happens at dusk and at dawn.

Feathers could be seen flying in footage taken at the shooting range, which is mowed regularly and has become an alternative to the upland heathland habitats which were previously favoured by the species.

Black grouse ‘lek’ mating ritual in Argyll and Bute .
Black grouse ‘lek’ mating ritual in Argyll and Bute .

The black grouse is one of the fastest declining birds in the UK and is on the International Union for Conservation of Nature’s Red List of Threatened Species, with the birds migrating north due to climate change.

Other species known to visit the site, which is part of the UK Defence Training Estate, includes osprey, sparrowhawk, Eurasian curlew, whinchat, grasshopper warbler and peregrine falcon, along with several species of owl.

A survey last year noted more than 70 species, of which 48 species are believed to be breeding, and is being used by DIO’s ecologists to help protect and maintain habitats across the training area, in careful balance with the site’s military training activities.

Lottie Birch, DIO ecologist (Scotland and Northern Ireland), said: “While on first impression a military firing range might seem an unlikely habitat for wildlife, it’s no exaggeration to say that Garelochhead hosts the best black grouse dance floor in central Scotland.

“Through continued collaboration between DIO, Landmarc and regional conservationists, we will continue to protect and conserve the diverse range of species that call the site home, while supporting military training activities.”

The Earl of Minto, Minister of State for Defence, said: “It is wonderful that we are protecting this iconic Scottish bird while supporting our Armed Forces’ essential training activities.

“Up and down the nation, we are conserving diverse habitats on our training estate while keeping the UK safe.”

John Simpson, ornithologist, Wild Caledonia Wildlife Surveys, said: “After conducting a breeding bird survey for DIO and Landmarc, it soon became apparent that Garelochhead Training Centre is an exceptional site for nature.

“The diversity and population density of many species, some of which are of conservation concern, is superb. The survey has led to a collaborative and coordinated approach to land management in balance with military training activity.

“DIO’s Defence Training Estate and Ecology teams, along with regional conservationists, work proactively together at Garelochhead, balancing the needs of conservation and national defence requirements.

“The range provides a wonderful black grouse lekking area and coordinated action ensures that areas are protected to give the best chance of nesting success.”