Black Grouse on leks in the snowy spring of Finland

BirkhuhnNature photographers, who visit the snow-capped central Finland in early April, might observe a very special natural event: the mating display of the Black Grouse (Tetrao tetrix).  If you want to take pictures of the mating display, you should go to Scandinavia for nature conservation reasons alone. For the last remnants of domestic populations the stress of photography is too high.

You have to get up early in order to get a good night’s sleep in the stable, well-insulated wooden cabinets with mattresses and old sleeping bags before daybreak. In the hiding place you have to be completely calm. Gradually, the cocks come closer to the snow-capped plain. A sound makes the presence of the cocks divine; It is a quiet cooing to hear.

In the morning dawn the first cocks of Black Grouse appear on the mating grounds . They announce their arrival with vigorous hissing. Then they begin to walk back and forth with little tripple steps. The wings grind deeply over the ground. They make rolling sounds. With sounds like this: “Kuluku -Lulluku -Kulluku”.

30 cocks run in front of the hiding places in quite a narrow area. If they come close to imaginary limits, they take an imposition. For two or three, they walk along the border parallel to the border. In such moments, they call particularly loudly. They try to force the opponent to turn back. Both cocks are hissing and spitting sounds when they try to persuade the opponent to repent. The images in the gallery show the vigorous fights of the Black Grouse cocks.

All this takes place according to a fixed “ritual”. If none of the opponents are ready to retreat, the battle can start. Suddenly, one of the small black “knights” jumps out and splits billions of feathers. The opponent’s striking “rose” is his target. But this one goes out of the way. The fight go back and forth. Even the tail and the wings are used as an armament. Not infrequently the feathers fly in these engagements. Fortunately serious injuries are the exception

The drab hens, which appear on the courtship place, always try to enter quickly to the dominant cock in the middle. The chosen cock is allowed to circle her and finally to copulate.

The weather plays an important role in the courtship. A windstiller clear morning in snow is perfect. There is hardly any activity on the leks during wind and rain. They can be found on the courtship place, but only when the hens appear, they will get really lively.

In high season – in late April – even Red Fox (Vulpes vulpes) and the Northern Goshawk (Accipiter gentilis), the worst enemies of Black Grouse, cannot terminate the ceremony. Although the birds briefly interrupt the tournament and press themselves to the sandy soil or fly at a stroke to the next trees. But after a short time they are back and continue their courtship.

The morning courtship in spring usually takes 5 to 6 hours. When the air has warmed up, it is usually around 10am. The cocks lose interest and begin with the plumage care on the courtship site. After this procedure, one after the other disappears.

The whole spectacle starts at the latest in March. Then you can also admire the last black grouse on the courts. Feathers of their widespread wings and traces of jumps foreshadow the morning presence to be seen on the leks. The mating display lasts until mid-May. At the end of the season, cocks fly to the courts one hour or one and a half hours before sunrise, in May even two hours. The morning courtship – as seen in the gallery – lasts five to six hours and runs in two sections: during dusk and after sunrise.

To cope with the growing demand for top shots of the rarer species of the Palearctic Bird-Lens is keen to enrich the range of pictures of birds not only for the Western Palearctic. Trips to remote places to capture images of rare birds were very successful. The nice images you find in the blog is only a first impression, what you will find in the gallery in the “Picture Shop” very soon. Just give me a message, if could serve you with an image needed before the new pictures are online.

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