It was a huge pleasure to visit a reader of this blog on Thursday, when I was shown what it takes to breed and keep grouse in captivity. After a productive spring, black grouse chicks strolled happily through the long grass inside their pens, cheeping and being clucked at by their respective bantam surrogates. Red grouse called from a seperate enclosure, and a pair of capercaillie peeked out from the back of a thick and overgrown pen.
Grouse have the reputation of being nature’s untouchables. General consensus dictates that if you take a grouse of any colour or species out of the wild, it will quickly fade and die. What I saw on Friday showed that not only can you keep birds in captivity, but they can actively thrive, breed productively and go from strength to strength.
After having recently Posted on the subject of introducing supplementary bloodlines to the dwindling birds on the Chayne, I can see real possibilities for keeping and breeding black grouse of my own. The problems traditionally associated with reintroduction would be negated by a series of releases to bolster an existing population of birds rather than create a new one from scratch, and if I could get it right, a sustained release of birds could well resurrect Galloway’s black grouse from the ashes.
There would be no point in freshening bloodlines if I don’t get the habitat right. I have black grouse on the hill, and habitat improvement along the lines of what I have done and what I plan to do will certainly make a difference to them. However, there is more than just poor habitat behind the collapse of Galloway’s black grouse. My concern is that my birds will soon become so isolated and inbred that by the time the heather is in a good enough condition to support them, they will be genetically exhausted and unable to fill the gap.
I don’t propose to release black grouse into a habitat that is unable to support them, because this would doom the birds to failure. As I see it, supplementary releases could take place on moorland that is returning to a healthy state, and artficially reared birds would perform an auxiliary role for the benefit of the black grouse already on the site, freshening bloodlines and contributing to the viability of the locals. Whether or not reintroduction from scratch is a viable way of resurrecting lost black grouse populations remains to be seen, but using artificially reared birds to boost a failing wild population has never been attempted, and it seems too good an opportunity to miss.