Bird Watching (UK) - - What To See And How To See It -

MANY PEO­PLE KNOW the Red Grouse as the ‘only Bri­tish bird’. It is in­deed true that the bird only oc­curs in the Bri­tish Isles. How­ever, it is widely agreed that it is a largely red-brown sub­species of the wide­spread Ho­larc­tic Wil­low Grouse (aka Wil­low Ptarmi­gan). ‘Our’ bird, in ad­di­tion to be­ing red-brown (in­clud­ing the wings and belly, which are white in the Wil­low Grouse), are dis­tin­guished by not turn­ing white in win­ter. In­ci­den­tally, try not to con­fuse the Wil­low Ptarmi­gan (Grouse) with the Ptarmi­gan, which is of­ten called the Rock Ptarmi­gan, eg in North Amer­ica, where both sea­sonal plumage-chang­ing species oc­cur. So, the Red Grouse is not a species as such; and there are many birds which have dis­tinct Bri­tish and Bri­tish Isles sub­species. Fur­ther­more, tax­onomists in their wis­dom have de­ter­mined that Scot­tish Cross­bill is an en­demic species; and is not only the only UK en­demic bird species, but the only UK en­demic ver­te­brate. The Red Grouse may not be the ‘only Bri­tish bird’, but it is a dis­tinctly Bri­tish (and Ir­ish) bird, and a pretty lovely one, too. Sadly, it is also the bird at the cen­tre of one of the most rag­ing wildlife de­bates in this coun­try. It is ar­gued that Red Grouse are ‘falsely’ nur­tured and their habi­tat ‘con­trolled’ ar­ti­fi­cially in a de­struc­tive way that is detri­men­tal to other lo­cal wildlife. Vic­tims of this ‘con­trol’ don’t just in­clude mam­malian preda­tors but also Moun­tain Hares and, of course Hen Har­ri­ers. And all this arises be­cause some peo­ple get their en­ter­tain­ment (and some large amounts of money) from driven Red Grouse shoot­ing. But don’t blame the grouse. You can see Red Grouse on up­land heather moor­land mainly in Scot­land and north­ern Eng­land, but also in Wales and south-west Eng­land, plus the whole of Ire­land. Only the males are deep red-brown, with bright red ‘combs’ above the eye. Females are more cryp­ti­cally coloured and pat­terned, with a much smaller comb. When ex­cited, the male’s red comb swells up and be­comes much more ob­vi­ous. Males are usu­ally more con­spic­u­ous and are seen above the heather ‘keep­ing guard’. They have a gruff, al­most hu­man toned voice, warn­ing In English, of course, as be­fits a dis­tinctly Bri­tish bird…

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