The Biology of the Species
The hazel grouse is one of the small members of grouse family measuring about 35 cm and weighing between 400 and 450 grams. Its brown patterned plumage is of an exceptionally protective colour. The male has a black throat and somewhat longer head feathers. The females lay from 7 to 11 eggs in small ground holes. The hazel grouse feeds mainly on plants; while the chicks also take insects. The main source of food in the winter time are buds, male catkins of the hazel and also birch or alder trees, while in the autumn it pecks at the fruits of elder, mountain ash, Whitebeam, checker tree, hawthorn, barberry and other fruit-producing species.
It lives mainly in conifer and mixed forests of different stand structure with a large share of hazel trees of different age. The male and female spend the entire year in the territory of approximately 40 ha and defend it against other members of the same species. The male in particular is the first pillar of defence with its high-pitched calls. The hazel grouse finds a safe and suitable living space in overgrown areas and young forest stands with variegated herbal, bush and tree structure. It uses small groups of spruce and fir trees to make its shelter for the night and in case of danger.
The main threats to the species are a quick-changing living environment and predators. The overgrowing areas are relatively quickly turning into tall forests and the hazel is disappearing owing also to the foresters who remove it in the scope of silvicultural works. Wild boars, foxes, badgers, ravens and other predators plundering their nests.
The hazel grouse is quickly disappearing in the recent years, Its habitat moves to the higher areas. It is still present in the Slovenian mountains, mountainous areas of Europe and almost in all forests in the norther and north-western Europe.
Conservation status of the species in the Kočevsko Special Protection Area: poor (2009 Report)
The population of the hazel grouse was estimated to 100 to 300 pairs before 2000. Recently, only few data indicate their existence suggesting a major drop in population.
By imitating the overgrowing process and stimulating the existence and growth of the groups of hazels, birches and other fruit-producing species we plan to create a more favourable living environment for the hazel grouse. Its habitat will be variegated by planting small groups of spruce, mountain ash, checker trees, Whitebeams. The planted sites will be protected by a protective fence. This will result in the growth of the so called feeding fences. By including specific measures in the forest management plans of the forest management units and in the detailed plans, the ‘management for the species’ principle will be introduced and implemented. Since the hazel hens are very sensitive ground nesting birds, the continuous and expert guidance of game species populations is very important apart from the delegated forest development.
In Slovenia, the hazel grouse is a protected species. The hazel grouse is defined as a near threatened species (NT) on the Red List of Threatened Species (2011 IBA revision).