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Capercaillie at Spring Lek,  Glenmore NNR. ©Colin Leslie/SNH. For information on reproduction rights contact the Scottish Natural Heritage Image Library on tel. 01738 444177 or

Abernethy NNR - Scots pine woodland. ©Lorne Gill/SNH. For information on reproduction rights contact the Scottish Natural Heritage Image Library on Tel. 01738 444177 or

Woodlands fit for caper

Burning, cutting and cattle grazing

The Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB) habitat management at Abernethy NNR aims to provide a good mixture of old Scots pine or Scots pine plantations with large amounts of blaeberry...perfect for capercaillie.

Since the reduction in large deer numbers at Abernethy there has been a decline in Scots pine regeneration and an increase in heather height. Neither of these are good news for caper. By mimicking natural ecological 'disturbances' such as fire and large herbivore trampling, RSPB hope to restore most of the ideal habitat requirements for capercaillie.   

To do this RSPB carry out management scale burns within the forest to destroy areas of rank heather and encourage blaeberry growth as well as opening up the forest floor so that Scots pine seedlings can establish.  Their monitoring is showing a marked increase in seedling establishment on the burnt areas.

Cattle are also being used to break down forest floor vegetation and cutting with strimmers means that heather height can be reduced irrespective of weather conditions.

Goodbye to deer fences

It's not just capercaillie that fly into deer fences - so do red and black grouse and other species of bird. Radio-tagging capercaillie has shown that deer fence collisions account for 24% of first year birds mortality and 8% of adults annually.

So at Abernethy, RSPB have removed most of the deer fences and where fences could not be moved (e.g. the boundary fences) they have reduced the height to a stock fence or marked them with orange barrier netting or wooden 'droppers'.  The result is that on fences marked with the orange nets capercaillie mortality has been reduced by 64% and black grouse by 91%.

Nest monitoring

Monitoring of RSPB's habitat management techniques and avian fence collisions has provided critical information on the success of new techniques to try and create better habitat and avoid unnecessary bird mortality.  It is only when we have the data to hand can we prove the success (or otherwise) of our conservation management techniques.

Caper nest monitoring to determine the fate of eggs is also part of a long term study at Abernethy.  But first you have to find your nest.....290 man-hours yielded just 5 nests in 2005!  Once a nest is found, a tiny, camouflage camera is installed above the nest to get an overhead view of the eggs.  The camera is also fitted with infra-red lights so that night time filming can be carried out. A time-lapsed video linked to the camera records an image every fifth of a second - so providing a detailed record of the fate of each nest.  Over the past 3 years, ten nests have been monitored.

Once the study has finished, RSPB hope to get a clearer picture of capercaillie nest survival; the causes of failure and relative importance of each. They can then use this information to target their conservation work more effectively.

Last updated on Wednesday 12th April 2017 at 13:48 PM. Click here to comment on this page