The Capercaillie is a very large Grouse like bird long associated with the native woodlands of Scotland. Over hunting and habitat loss meant it ceased to be found in the country by the late 1700’s but later reintroductions from Sweden have meant that it is once again part of the wild backdrop to the Scottish landscape.
The name Capercaillie appears with various spellings but all seem to stem from the Gaelic, although there is more than one possible root there as well. The most widely quoted is Capall coille meaning Horse of the Woods, believed to refer to the sheer size of the bird and the calls of the male in spring which, with a little imagination, could be said to sound like a horse, and a phrase in its more routine song, which can be described as ‘tik-up’, resembling the sound of a horse’s hooves. An alternative Gaelic base is Gabhar-coille, The Goat of the Wood, possibly coming from the male’s goat-like beard and, especially this time of the year, belligerence. Males display and compete ferociously with each other for females but have been known to show aggression to people and even vehicles that stray into what they see as their part of the forest in spring.
Capercaillie are declining in numbers again and great efforts are being made to keep them as part of the Scottish wild forest. This one is in part of the Cairngorms National Park, which put it in the traditional lands of the Macpherson clan but all the great Scottish families would have been familiar with this majestic bird in their ancestral homelands in past centuries.
Western Capercaillie – Tetrao urogallus