The Western Hazel Grouse – a bird on the edge of extinction

Haselhuhn, MännchenThe Vosges in eastern France are a very attractive tourist destination in summer time. The The Western Hazel Grouse (Bonasa bonasia rhenana) is a secretive representative of the grouse family, which has its last refuge in the Vosges. But it is also in danger in the northeast of France. Northern Wheatears (Oenanthe oenanthe), Meadow Pipits (Anthus pratensis) and Skylarks (Alauda arvensis) are certainly the most common species of birds, but some rare bird species live in the forests as well. Beside birds of the higher mountain zone one sees some interesting plants like Yellow Gentian (Gentiana lutea), Mountain arnica (Arnica montana), Alpine Pasqueflower (Pulsatilla alpina) and Mountain Pansy (Viola lutea).

Due to the difficulty of exact surveys, the decline in Western Hazel Grouse in northeastern France is described not easy. Since the 1930s, there are five to seven methodologically comparable observations. The area under consideration in the first survey is a rather continental-toned climate. The area is forested to about 33%, with a variation of 20% in arable land and up to 75% in the low mountain range. Four natural areas can be distinguished:

  • The densely cultivated Champagne on the edge of the Paris Basin with 20% forest share at sea heights of 60 to 200 m.
  • The zone of hills and plateaus at 100-400 (-500) m asl in the Ardennes and Lorraine with 37% forest, mainly oak and beech forest and coniferous forest.
  • The up to 1,424 m high Vosges with their vegetation levels: Below 500 m, a forest cover of 44% beech oak forest with sprinkled coniferous on the wetter west side of the mountains, and mainly sessile forests on the drier east side. Tree cover has been significantly replaced by conifers on the east side. Above 500 m, forest cover with beech fir forests increases to 75%. Beyond 1,000 m there are spruce-enriched beech-fir or pure beech high-altitude forests.
  • The Alsace Upper Rhine plain (100-250 m asl) with 25% forest cover, on the one hand alluvial oak-ash or riparian forests and, on the other hand, oak-beech forests on sandy areas, enriched with Scots pine.

The hazel grouse was originally distributed mainly in the second and third zones of the hills and low mountain ranges.

The drastic decline of the Western Hazel Grouse began in 1935, initially in the north and west of the reference area. Between 1964 and 1992, the species had already cleared 90% of the lowlands and 40-55% of the low mountain ranges. In 1976 there were still 260-330 pairs in the Vosges. In 2016 number declined to only 20-50 pairs. Between 1990 and 2000, 2,000-10,000 couples of the Western Hazel Grouse were estimated throughout France; most recently only 6,000-8,000 mainly in Jura and Alpes with the subspecies Tetrastes bonasia styriaca.

There are several reasons for this decline, but the disappearance of thickets and the transformation of the once well-structured mixed forests of fir and beech in the Vosges into single-layered forests without substructure and internal structure are important. Other complicating causes include the significant increase in ungulates over the last 30 years. These include Wild Boars (Sus scrofa) and Red Deer (Cervus elaphus). The sustained negative effects of Wild Boar is probably due to nest predation. Actually, the Wild Boar did not occur historically due to the difficult climatic conditions in the higher altitudes of the Vosges. Its presence has been made possible there in the last decades by laid out churns. As far as the Red Deer is concerned, their effect could be indirect by eliminating the woody subphase of the Hazel Grouse’s popular light-dependent tree species. The situation of the species in the northeast of France is now extremely worrying. So far, no concrete measures have been taken in its favor, and until recently, no one was really aware of the seriousness of the situation, even among scientists. This loss would be all the more damaging as it would affect the last reasonably enduring population of the subspecies rhenana of the Hazel Grouse. The subspecies rhenana of the hazel grouse covers the westernmost distribution area of ​​this grouse occurring otherwise up to the Pacific. The birds that are found in the northeast of France and in the adjacent regions of Belgium, Luxembourg and south-west Germany differ considerably from their relatives living further to the east.

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 you can find in the western palearctic. Trips to remote places like this one to capture images not only of rare birds of western palearctic were very successful.

The yield of pictures not only of rare Western Palaearctic birds is very good. Unfortunately, no picture of the subspecies described above could be made yet. The male Hazel Grouse shown in the blog therefore belongs to the subspecies Tetrastes bonasia styriaca (or Bonasa bonasia styriaca), which occurs in the Alps at altitudes between 600 and 1,900 m asl and in the Carpathians between 600 and 2,950 m above sea level.

The nice image of the blog is only a first impression, what you will find in the gallery in the “Picture Shop” very soon. Just give a message, if could serve you with an image needed before the new pictures are online.

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