Tragedy struck last night in the high winds. Heading out into the yard for a final check on ferrets and turkeys at 1am, I found that my pet black grouse’s pen had blown over. The five foot square pen section panels which originally formed the basis of a crow cage had simply folded together, crushing the shelter where the dear old bird used to roost. It took ten minutes to disentangle the top nets and pull the wreckage aside, and it became more and more obvious during that time that my blackcock had gone to the great lek in the sky.
Although he was blind, he lived a surprisingly functional life. I learned a huge amount from watching him preening and displaying during the course of our eighteen month acquaintance, and he really was a joy to have around, particularly in the spring when the constant bubbling from beneath my office window made a jolly addition to the working day.
I suppose his blindness meant that he was never going to serve any real purpose, and in any other situation he would probably have had his head knocked when it was first discovered. I like to think he had a reasonable few months with me, although I doubt he took as much from the experience as I did.
Black grouse are some of the most difficult birds to get hold of for aviaries and captive breeding stock. Supply is limited to small scale operations by a handful of people up and down the country, and the poults (if any are ever available) tend to cost in the region of £150 each. It will not be easy to replace my blind bird, but I am keen to try. Although it clearly is not a quick fix answer, I am quite convinced that reintroducing black grouse will play some part in their long term conservation, and aside from the pleasure of keeping birds, there are useful lessons to learn at first hand when it comes to captive breeding, rearing and releasing which may prove vital in the field.