Coming face to face with a capercaillie is always an experience. The commotion they make as they take flight is a pulsating sight and its courtship rituals are a distinct part of the Finnish national landscape. It is impossible to confuse a male capercaillie with other birds, although you can mistake a reddish-brown female for a black grouse. However, the capercaillie is bigger and its tail rounder and it lacks stripes on its wings.
Adult capercailies are vegetarian but the chicks first feed on insects. The adult diet is diverse and includes shoots, leaves and lots of berries in the summer. In early winter they eat pine needles. However, not all pine needles are suitable but where they are suitable a thick layer of droppings accumulates and the pine needles can be stripped from the tree.
Virttaankangas has a number of courtship display sites, but the reduced number of sites has meant a reduction in the capercaillie popultion. A single male will generally not use the same site but will look for females from elsewhere. These so-called “crazy capercaillies” can behave completely without fear of humans and may even put on displays in courtyards and residential areas throughout the mating season. During the high point of the mating season, they may attack any moving thing if they believe it to be a rival. The story of crazy capercaillies is sad because it is a sign of forest loss and a decline in the local forest’s capercaillie population.
They are also decling in the ridge area itself, for example, no chicks were found in its population in summer 2005. The whole forest population of the entire eastern ridge is currently less than five and because the whole population in southwest Finland is declining, the future for the species is threatened. Nevertheless, the population is still relatively stable in northern Finland, although there are annual variations in six to seven year cycles, but in different parts of the country, population peaks are experienced at different times. The cause of the decline is the disappearance and segmentation of older, broader forests and, in some places, overhunting. A capercaillie is a desired kill for hunters, but its scarcity has led to it being classified as a protected species in almost the whole of southern Finland.
Photo: Erkki Kallio