IberiaNature A guide to the natural history of Spain
By Nick Lloyd - Home - Contact

Capercaillie in Spain

The two isolated populations of capercaillie in Spain are glacial relicts, The bird probably colonised the Iberian Peninsula during the Würm Ice Age. As the ices waned, the bird died out in other mountainous areas of Spain, with the current two populations being isolated. These evolved into two separate subspecies Tetrao urogallus cantabricas, the Cantabrian capercaillie and Tetrao urogallus aquitanicus, the Pyrenean capercaillie, which have evolved towards a need for different habitats, the former in mixed deciduous forests, and latter in mature black pine woods. The capercaillie in the Pyrenees is darker.

Although, the capercaillie has probably never been in common in Spain, in recent years its population has plummeted.

Capercaillie in the Cordillera Cantábrica (Cantabria, Asturias and Galicia)

Found between 800-1,800m in mixed deciduous beech forest. The population of capercaillies has fallen by 70% in the Cordillera Cantábrica in the last 25 years, where an estimated 150 male birds survive. In 1988, there were an estimated 582 males. 190 and 204 males were recorderd in 1998 and 2001. Specifically, in Asturias the 2000-2001 official census recorded 101 males, half of which were in the areas of Cangas del Narcea and Degaña. In 1982, there were 291 male capercaillies in Asturias. Capercaillie have disappeared from Somiedo Natural Park, supposedly one of the most pristine environs left in the Cantabrian Mountains.

Capercaillie in the Pyrenees

Found between 1,700-2,000m in black pine forest. The population of capercaillie in the Pyrenees is also in decline. Between 1989 and 2001, the number of males fell by 17% from 942 to 698. There were 3 in Navarra compared with 15 in 1989. In Aragon, the population fell from 154 to 100 and in Catalonia from 773 to 583 during the same period.renaico.

Causes of decline in capercaillie population

1. Hunting until the 1980's including by the toadlike Manual Fraga, President of Galicia, though with protection he has been forced to fly to Romania to continue to shoot capercaillie. In the French Pyrenees, unbelievably, it is still a game species.

2. Recent fall is linked to rise in population of wild boar and red deer, which both compete for resources and trample on nests. The former also has a taste for capercaillie eggs. See also Wolves, boars and capercaillie

3. Possible link to climate change. If climate change predictions for Spain are true the capercialllie in the Iberian Peninsula is doomed. This may or may not already be happening.

4. Low reproduction rates due to lack of young individuals reaching breeding age.

5. Fragmentation and empovrishment of forests (link as above).

6. Lack of protection. Protection has come late.


capercaillie : urogallo común, gallo de bosque, pavo de monte; gall fer (Cat) (Tetrao urogallus) .

  • SEO declared the urogallo its bird of the year for 1999.

External links (in Spanish unless stated):


See also News on Birds in Spain

alpine accentor - alpine swift - aquatic warbler - arctic skua -arctic tern - Atlantic puffin - Audouin's gull - avocet - azure-winged magpie