Birds: Red Grouse (Cearc fhraoigh, Lagopus lagopus)
A traditional quarry species for hunters, the Red Grouse is known to many by name if not by appearance. Confined to heather moorland and upland bogs, the Irish population has been declining recently, and hunting has been strictly limited. Whether this will enable the species to recover in this country remains to be seen, but it is still a widespread, if scarce, resident throughout.
At around 40cm, the Red Grouse is a little smaller than a Mallard, though its small head and plump build make it appear quite substantial. They are mottled reddish-brown overall, matching the colour of the heather in which they live (the Irish name means "heather hen"), save for fluffy-looking whitish feathers on the legs, running down also to cover the toes; the species' scientific name refers to the fact that its feet resemble those of a hare. The male also has a bright red wattle over each eye.
Red Grouse feed predominantly on heather shoots, but will eat other plant material and also small invertebrates. Wary and well camouflaged, they are not easy to observe, and are most frequently spotted flying away having been disturbed, keeping low to the ground.
In the strict sense, the bird known as the Red Grouse is completely confined to Ireland and Britain. Elsewhere in its range, which encompasses much of northern Europe, Asia and North America, the species looks quite different, having white wings in summer and turning white overall in winter. These birds belong to different races of the same species and are known collectively as the Willow Grouse.
?More BirdWatch Ireland will be starting a National Red Grouse Survey this winter on behalf of the National Parks and Wildlife Service. For info on this, visit www.birdwatchireland.ie, call 01 2819878 or email firstname.lastname@example.org