BLACK GROUSE (Tetrao tetrix)

Tétras lyre

 

This is a medium sized grouse, found in Switzerland from Lac Léman eastwards throughout the alpine range, generally above 1400m. It is a forest and forest edge bird, and seems equally happy on the ground and in trees.

The male is a fine bird with glossy blue-black feathers, a distinctive white wing-bar and white undertail and thighs, with "eyebrows" which are bright red wattles which can be inflated during display. The tail feathers of the male curve outwards into a lyre shape from which derives the name in French. The female is browner flecked with black and blends well with the landscape.

These birds are generally gregarious throughout the year, but especially so in spring when the males gather in groups known as "leks". They do not form permanent pairs but the males gather and display to each other and the females mate with those who display the best. During display the males drop their wings and fan out their tails showing the white underside which contrasts with the black, and then they dance in circles. All this takes place in a rough "dance arena" with the females watching on the outside, studies have shown that the dominant males occupy the central positions and get to copulate the most.

The call of the male is a bubbling "rook-ooo" sound which at a distance could be reminiscent of a dove:

 

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My recording is of a single male soloist in a tree, in May when the snow was melting rapidly so there are many hissing streams in the background here, but from a bit closer the true nature of the sound becomes clear - it has a characteristic rolling quality:

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You can understand this better from the sonogram, follow it and you can see that the calls come in waves, each sequence starting at about 400 Hz rising to a plateau of 600 Hz before starting again:


They also make a hissing call rather more intermittently, I have only one sample of this and repeat it four times here so that you can get the idea:

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My subject flew with the characteristic explosion of this family, first towards me then as he caught sight of me he veered away sharply away with his wings beating loudly:

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I have not had the opportunity to record a lek but clearly that has to be an ambition ! Until then I will have to console myself with another type of Black Grouse much beloved by ornithologists who cannot find this species in the wild......

 

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