Audio Call

Wild Harris

Red Grouse

Red Grouse 2 LCampbell.jpg(Photo: Laurie Campbell)

Grouse rely on heather for food and shelter.  Red Grouse are one of the few birds that can be found on the moors throughout the year. In fact, grouse are only found in moorland areas because they feed mainly on heather. They feed on the young heather shoots and leaves of heather which stay green all year round. They also feed on the seed heads of other plants, particularly cotton grasses and their young feed on insects. As well as young heather shoots to eat, grouse need older, deep heather in which to nest and seek shelter. The moorland areas of South Harris and around Reinigeadal where there are banks of deeper heather hold the best populations of grouse for this reason.

Grouse rely on their camouflage to avoid predation
Although grouse are found throughout Harris they can be difficult to locate as they spend most of their time skulking amongst the heather and only fly up when approached at close range. They have good reason to be secretive as they are one of the favoured prey items of golden eagles and rely on their camouflage to avoid being spotted. However, their droppings are very distinctive and looking out for these is the best way to tell if grouse are in the area. Their droppings are often found in piles with each dropping being several centimetres long and curved in shape. They have a fibrous texture and are reddish brown in colour.

Red Grouse 5 LCampbell_341489074.jpg(Photo: Laurie Campbell)

Red Grouse are only found in Scotland and are a sub-species of the Willow Grouse which is found across much of Europe. The willow grouse turns white in the winter to blend in against the snowy background but here in Scotland, where snow does not lie on the ground for so long, Red Grouse stay the same colour all year round.

Ptarmigan are a close relative of the Red Grouse and were once found on Harris
At one time Ptarmigan, a close relative of the Red Grouse was found on the tops of the North Harris hills but the higher peaks of the Cuillin hills of Sky are now the closest place where they can be found. Ptarmigan do turn white in winter and are found on the highest peaks, usually over 800m so the Harris hills are not quite high enough to support a population of Ptarmigan.

Red Grouse 4 LCampbell.jpg(Photo: Laurie Campbell)

Grouse are shot for sport on many Scottish estates
For many centuries grouse have been shot across large areas of Scotland and Northern England for sport. Large areas of eastern Scotland are still managed for grouse shooting. In these areas small patches of heather are burnt in rotation to encourage new heather growth for grouse giving the hill the appearance of a patchwork quilt from a distance, with the different ages of heather appearing as different colours. On these moors grouse can become so numerous that they are driven by beaters towards shooters and many hundred grouse can be shot in a day. Here on Harris the heather is not managed for grouse and shooting is only carried out occasionally with dogs locating and flushing grouse for the shooters.

Red Grouse 3 LCampbell.jpg(Photo: Laurie Campbell)