Capercaillie

Capercaillie

Date of disappearance: 1785

Reason: Hunting

Special power: Their amazingly brave and robust defence of their territory against predators is likely to be useful to other bird and mammal species, which can benefit from the protective effect.

Habitat: Native pinewood with dense understoreys of blaeberries and heather.

Status: Capercaillie were reintroduced into Scotland from 1837 onwards. There are currently around 2,000 birds existing at the edge of their natural range in impoverished habitats and subjected to a maritime climate of relatively wet springs and summers. They are extinct in England and Wales. Capercaillie are spread widely through the continental climate of northern Europe and Russia. 

There have been micro management attempts to save the capercaillie – promoting woodland regeneration and blaeberry cover, for example, and eliminating predation by pine martens. However, ground-nesting birds such as the capercaillie have evolved to live with predators and do so successfully elsewhere in the world. Eliminating one species to save another is not a sensible long-term solution.

Threats: The biggest threat is the lack of a healthy, functioning habitat on a scale that’s large enough to support them. This is mostly due to the decline and fragmentation of native woodland. Collisions with deer fences are also a big issue, especially for young birds. Climate change is an additional threat, but the impact is harder to gauge when the caper’s natural habitat is so diminished.

Outlook: The key to capercaillie survival is large-scale habitat restoration that can support sustainable populations. A rewilding approach would let nature find its own balance by allowing natural processes to exist and keystone species to return. A healthy population of capercaillie, as a species at the edge of its natural range, would be a key indicator of the success of this approach.  

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