By Sandra Dick
A throwback from the Ice Age, in recent years capercaillies have been a dwindling feature of Scotland’s pine forests.
Now the country’s rarest game bird - the largest of the grouse family which boasts a wingspan of more than a metre – could be rescued by the most modern of methods.
DNA extracted from capercaillie feathers and other material found at brood sites in Cairngorm forests is playing a key role in helping to pinpoint how many of the rare birds remain in the wild and helping to form strategies for their future protection.
However, it is already feared that numbers have dropped so low, that the birds’ are already facing a “genetic bottleneck” raising concerns over their ability to adapt and survive in the face of climate change.
That has raised the possibility of birds being introduced from other European locations to strengthen and support the native population. A similar suggestion has been made by conservationists working to save the Scottish wildcat.
Capercaillie DNA work is being done by scientists at the Royal Zoological Society of Scotland (RZSS), at its WildGenes Laboratory, which has also carried out genetic work research on Scotland’s red squirrel, white-tailed eagle and golden eagle populations.