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Black grouse

The black grouse is well known for the early morning displays of the male (blackcock). Blackcock gather at clearings in the woods known as 'leks', where they display to attract a female mate (greyhen) by strutting with their tails spread and heads held low. Leks are visited all year round, but the peak of activity is in spring when the females attend and mate with the males.


Black grouse (Tetrao tetrix)



Black grouse range over uplands from Wales to North Scotland, but their distribution has contracted by 28% since the 1970s. They are found on moor land edges, where the moor meets grassy fields used for rough grazing and areas of scrubby willow, birch and conifer woodland.


Greyhens are solely responsible for hatching and rearing the young. The nest is usually on the ground, but it can be low in a bush in the old nest of another species. Greyhens normally lay between 8 -10 eggs from mid May. The eggs are incubated for about 24 days.


Chicks leave the nest within days of hatching and can fly when they are 1 month old. The blackcock plays no part in the chick's upbringing.


Black grouse feed on the buds and shoots of trees and shrubs, and berries and seeds. Young chicks feed on insects.


The black grouse population has been declining rapidly in recent years. This is linked to changes in land use, such as more intensive grazing and pasture improvement in the uplands.


The blackcock is a handsome, all-black bird with a red comb and white under tail coverts. It is about the size of a hen. The greyhen is slightly smaller and mottled, with paler brown barring above and darker brown barring on the under parts. The greyhen has a short, shallowly forked tail, about 41 cm long.

How we manage our woods

We identify woods where the black grouse is found and make sure that forest design plans allow for a sequence of tree felling and replanting to provide suitable habitat and food supply. We also manage work programmes to avoid disturbing nesting sites during the breeding season. We are working closely with a range of partners, including the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds, the British Trust for Ornithology and the UK Biodiversity Action Plan Black Grouse Steering Group to ensure the survival of the black grouse. 

Vital statistics

Length: males xx cm, females (including tail) xx cm
Weight: males xx, females xx
Lifespan: x years
Numbers in Britain: 6,500 displaying males

Useful sites

England's Woods and Forests are cared for by Forest Enterprise England, an agency of the Forestry Commission.