Capercaillie mating ritual recreated for virtual reality project

The mating ritual of Scotland's most endangered bird can be seen up close for the first time in new attraction at Balmoral.

The endangered capercaillie lek will be able to be seen up close for the first time at Balmoral Estate.

The new virtual attraction allows visitors to see the capercaillie’s elusive mating ritual where males square up to one another to prove they are worthy of a mate.

‘Lekking’ involves turkey-sized males who square up to each other to prove to a hen that they are a worthy mate.

But with fewer than 600 capercaillie now left in Scotland, they are protected.

It is an offence to disturb them during the mating season, which is why the ‘virtual lek’ has been created.

For the first time, visitors to Balmoral will be able to feel what it’s like to be in a Scots pine forest at first light when capercaillie are lekking.

Immersed in the sights and sounds of the Caledonian forest, recreated in the mews of Balmoral Castle, visitors will be able to experience lekking capercaillie up-close on a huge high-definition screen and learn all about the bird in Royal Deeside through interactive elements suitable for all ages.

Carolyn Robertson, Cairngorms Capercaillie Project said: “This is the former horse stables in Balmoral Castle which we have converted into a ‘capercaillie lek’.

“So this is a forest environment now, where you find capercaillie lekking, which is breeding with other capercaillie.

But it’s more than that; it’s also about learning about the birds and loads of information about how to look after the bird as well.

Capercaillie is Scotland’s most endangered bird

“Human disturbance is threatening to push capercaillie closer to extinction and with only 532 capercaillie left in the UK, we’re urging people to not go looking for the birds.

“Disturbance can stop them from breeding and cause them unnecessary stress.

“But we know that so many people would love to see capercaillie, so the lek experience is about making that possible without causing issues for the bird.”

One of the largest grouse in the world, capercaillie are known in Gaelic as ‘the horse of the woods’.

They have been living in Scotland’s forests since the last ice age.

But their population here has dwindled from 20,000 to just over 500.

Predicted to be extinct in the next two to three decades, this new exhibition hopes to stop people from disturbing them, particularly during lekking.

Capercaillie used to live throughout Royal Deeside, but the area is now home to an extremely vulnerable capercaillie population.

Richard Gledson, factor at Balmoral Estate said: “It’s a great thrill to have it and some of these things will show the camera traps that we have.

“We count the leks, we have the camera traps and we put those up on social media.

“It’s a great thrill for us and it would be a great sadness if we lost it. That’s why we are doing all this work with support of the Capercaillie Project to try and make conditions the best for it.”

The lek experience is free for visitors to Balmoral Estate.

The estate is open on selected dates over the winter months with free admission, for more information visit www.balmoralcastle.com/admissions.htm

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