In connection with the 100th birthday of Estonia, this year's bird is the particularly dignified Capercaillie (Tetrao urogallus), in Estonian METSIS. 

The Capercaillie is a native species and one of the natural symbols of Estonia. It is one of the first bird species to arrive here after the last ice age and has been here as least as long as man. The lekking grounds are usually located in pine groves over 100 years of age. The nearest habitat suitable for Capercaillie is located 20 km away from Matsalu National Park.

A Capercaillie lek is fascinating to watch with fanned tail and much strutting and the ‘song’ is one of the most astonishing sounds in Estonian wildlife, with pops and scraping noising and other strange sounds - only very few are lucky enough to witness it!

Estonian Ornithological Society has set up a Capercaillie camera in southern Estonia. The camera is very close to a site where we will hopefully be able to observe the male Capercaillies' lekking. Capercaillie leks takes place early in the morning, often in complete darkness and will continue till 8 or 9 am. The birds spend the night in the trees above the lekking area. 

Direct stream: 

iPhone/iPad, Android:

In the highlands, along the ridges of mountain areas in temperate Europe, as well as in the taiga region from Fennoscandia to Siberia, the boreal forests show an open structure due to the harsh climate, offering optimal habitats for Capercaillie without human influence. This species has an estimated distribution of 1,000,000–10,000,000 km2 and a population of between 1.5 and 2 million individuals in Europe alone. 

In Estonia, the Capercaillie has a local distributed with poor reproduction, and does not inhabit the islands of western Estonia. In 2017, the population of Capercaillie is estimated to be 1300-1600 cocks with a lifespan of around 12 years in the wild.  Male and female Capercaillie differ both in size and colour, with male birds mainly black and with a fan-shaped tail, the female a more camouflaged brown and rusty colour. They do not form mating pairs, the females mating at the lek with the best performing male then laying eggs in a shallow scrape at the beginning of May some distance from the lek.

Research into Capercaillie behaviour has been carried out in Estonia since the beginning of the 1970s. One of the most important risk factors is the destruction and / or fragmentation of habitats caused, in particular, by the intensive management of forests and the construction of drainage systems. The negative effects of drainage on forests have a long lead in time and decades ago, deforested areas are only years later becoming unusable for Capercaillie. In addition, Capercaillie is a prey item for many predators (Lynx, Red Fox, Pine Martin) and raptors (Golden Eagle, Goshawk) and their nests may be plundered by Wild Boar and Ravens.

As a species with declining population, the Capercaillie is in the II conservation category of conserved species of Estonia and in the least concern category of the red list of threatened species.

Read more about the Bird of the Year 2018 >

The Capercaillie. Photo by Mati Kose