Page last updated at 08:27 GMT, Wednesday, 30 April 2008 09:27 UK

Black grouse boost spreads wings

Black grouse
Male black grouse strut to show off their feathers

A coalition of charities is hoping the black grouse will soon be spreading its wings after the success of a project to save the endangered birds.

Supporters hope to move the distinctive bird into north-west Northumberland and the Yorkshire Dales after its decline was reversed in the North Pennines.

The English population has grown from 773 males in 1998 to 1,029 males two years ago.

Conservationists hope to provide the right conditions so the birds thrive.

Improving habitats

The birds are currently in their mating season, during which the males perform showy early morning displays in woodland leks, or mating arenas.

They need dense vegetation, cover for nesting and protection from predators and mature woodland for winter food.

Pairs also need boggy areas, which are home to insects for chicks.

Male: glossy blue-black plumage, striking red wattles, curved black tail feathers; females are camouflaged in reddish brown plumage
More than 20 males can gather on early spring mornings. Males strut to show off their tail feathers and accompany their circular display with a cooing, bubbling song to attract females.
After mating, male birds go in search of another partner
The males measure around 55cm from bill to tail, have a wingspan of 80cm and weigh around 1.25kg; females are around 40cm, have a 65cm wingspan and weigh about 950g.

Phil Warren, project officer for Black Grouse Recovery, said the "remarkable" comeback in the North Pennines had been "a huge achievement".

"We are particularly grateful to the many farmers, gamekeepers and grouse moor managers who have implemented our recommendations - such as improving habitats to boost insects needed by young black grouse chicks and controlling generalist predators such as red fox and carrion crow," he said.

"There is no doubt that without their support and enthusiasm we may have lost this enigmatic bird."

Morag Walker, of the Game and Wildlife Conservation Trust, said: "They were once very common but now they're not, because of predators, and a loss of habitat, and so on.

"We're now trying to expand their range so that they move out to other areas.

We're trying to get people on board in the project - landowners, gamekeepers, land managers."

She said there are already "little, isolated pockets" of the grouse in Northumberland and Yorkshire - "but they are tiny, tiny amounts compared to sparrows, for example, which are two-a-penny".

The North Pennines Black Grouse Recovery Project is a 12-year partnership between the Game & Wildlife Conservation Trust, Natural England, RSPB, Ministry of Defence, North Pennines Areas of Outstanding Natural Bea Partnership and Northumbrian Water.

Project leaders said the roll-out of the restoration plan was being funded by a new donation from Natural England and a contribution from the Yorkshire Dales National Park.

Grouse decline 'can be reversed'
31 Jan 08 |  Highlands and Islands
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11 Jun 07 |  South of Scotland
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17 Mar 07 |  Highlands and Islands

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