The Black Grouse in Kyrgyzstan

A cock of black grouse on the lek. By Alexander Zhdanko

The Black Grouse (Lyrurus tetrix) is well known and widely distributed in the forests of Eurasia. This species usually inhabits the forest openings and edges of wooded lands, suitable for leks, where males display group dancing or courtship behaviour each spring in dusk hours (early morning), attracting females. Usually the Black Grouse is associated with large plain forests of Europe and Russia. However, it also occurs in the mountain forests of Central Asia: in Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan.

In Kyrgyz language, the spruce grouse has a simple name: “Kara Kur” or “black hen”. The distribution of black grouse in Kyrgyzstan is limited to the Tien-Shan spruce forests of the eastern part of the Issyk-Kul Region and Chon-Kemin Mountain Range. The species is found only in few places, which are isolated from other populations of this species in Kazakhstan. It is surprising how the small populations of this species survive in Kyrgyzstan in the conditions of long-term isolation. Due to its rarity the black grouse is listed in the Red Data Book of Kyrgyzstan since 1985 and protected by law.

Habitats of Black Grouse in Kyrgyzstan. By Elena Kreuzberg

This grouse is a large resident bird of a typical “hen” or “chicken” look. Males and females differ by size and color. Males are larger and wait from 900 g to 1.5 kg; they have glossy iridescent black plumage, bright red eyebrow and white under-tail feathers. Females have camouflage plumage, helping them to stay invisible on the forest floor during hatching eggs in breeding season.

Dancing rooster. By Alexander Zhdanko

In mountains of Kyrgyzstan, the black grouses prefer to stay in spruce forests with understory of mountain ash, barberry and other shrubs. In the breeding season – since end of March until early May – males gather on edges, open meadows and glades with dispersed juniper trees, serving as lek places. At the dawn of the morning, breeding males demonstrate spectacular dances and other elements of courtship behaviour, attracting females. Usually, the leks are located in the same places every year and up to 15 males can gather together during one morning tournament. Sometimes cocks fight, sometimes they flight in the air on 1-1.5 m loudly flapping by wings. Females come to the leks for mating, attracted by specific muttering of roosters.

Only females hatch eggs and raise offspring. They build a nest on the ground under the bushes, lining it with dry grass and moss. Females lay in the nest 5-6 eggs, which they incubate 19-25 days. Chicks after hatching are covered with thick down and leave the nest after a few hours, following the female. Chicks try to re-fly already after 10 days and begin to fly in a month. Grouses feed on insects, leaves and seeds of herbs, fruits, berries. In winter they can eat needle of coniferous (spruce and juniper). The main enemies of the black grouse in the mountains are the wolf, fox, golden eagle, goshawk, as well as shepherd dogs. Small predators, magpies and crows destroy eggs and hunt chicks.   The Black Grouse enriches mountain ecosystems with its presence. In order to attract public attention to the conservation of this rare species, the Kyrgyzstan Wildlife Society declared the black grouse as the bird of the year in 2015 and issued a calendar for distribution in schools and other public places in the Issyk-Kul region. The black grouse distribution sites should undoubtedly be protected in order to preserve these amazing birds for future generations.

Calendar: Bird of the Year – 2015. By Sergei Kulagin

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