LIFE13 NAT/SI/000314

Western capercaillie (Tetrao urogallus)

The Biology of the Species

The male (cock) of the western capercaillie is of a darker colour than the female (hen); it grows up to 90 cm and weighs about 5 kg. A hen has brighter plumage than a cock and grows up to 63 cm while weighing about 3 kg. In spring month of April, cocks and hens gather at the so called leks where the dominant males invite the females to copulate. The females lay from 6 to 10 eggs in the ground. After three weeks the young birds hatch – chicks which mostly need proteins for their growth – preferably ants. Adult birds feed on mainly plant products; pine, spruce, fir, maple and beech buds, raspberries, blueberries and berries as well as on fresh herb leaves.


The western capercaillie lives in the predominantly conifer forests above the altitude of 1000 m. In the summer time, they feed on the ground, clear-felled areas, clearings and open forests. They also leave the sites in the summer time and move to other locations several kilometers away. They also enjoy bathing at the sandy bathing sites and thus take care of their feathers. In the autumn time they return to the trees and spend the winter in the groups of tall conifers, especially in firs and spruces and feed on their buds.


The species is threatened by the forest environment and its predators (hawks, golden eagles) and mainly the predators of ground nests (wild boars, crows, foxes, badgers, bears, etc.).


The species is more widely spread in the north of Europe, in Scandinavia and Russia in particular. In Slovenia, it populates the areas at the altitudes between 600 and 1500 m in the Alpine world and forest plateaus in Notranjska, Snežnik, Zasavje and Kočveska.

Conservation status of the species in the Kočevsko Special Protection Area: poor.

The number of western capercaillie is decreasing in the Dinarides, as well as in other parts of Slovenia however with less intensity. In the Kočevska region, about 40 sites were known in the 1980s, while the latest estimations of the Slovenia Forest Service indicate that only few sites (from 2 to 5) are still active.

Project activities

The species is an important indicator of the conservation of forest and diversity of its stand structures. By conducting concrete nature conservation campaigns focusing on the improvement of living and feeding conditions for the species, the clearings will be provided at the areas of central sites for the growth of berries, while the construction of suitable fences will prevent the nibbling of raspberries and other herbs. By felling and removal of the intruding young forest trees at the sites, the visibility will be improved, the air escape routes from the sites’ predators will be established, while the road closures and placing of traffic signs will limit the access and thus decrease the disturbances. The unfavourably located feeding stations for wild animals will be moved to other locations and the planning of the increased killing of hunted predator species will be approached more actively.

Protection status

The western capercaille is a protected species in Slovenia and in the majority of Central European countries. It is a game species only in Scandinavia, Austria and France and defined as a vulnerable species (VU) on the Red List of Threatened Species (2011 IBA revision).