Mysterious capercaillie of the Fichtelgebirge are explored – Bavaria

In order to better protect the capercaillie in the Fichtelgebirge, which are threatened with extinction, experts want to learn more about the shy animals. “It is not known how big the population is,” said Oliver Thassler from the State Association for Bird Protection (LBV). There are only chance sightings. “It would be very lucky to actually see some.” The capercaillie of the Fichtelgebirge are likely to be the only ones in Bavaria that live outside the Alps and the Bavarian Forest. And: they have never been refreshed by reintroduction projects. That means a “nationwide obligation to protect” animals, stressed Thassler. In a first step, the animals’ excrement and feathers are searched for in order to be able to draw conclusions about the size of the population. The feces would then be genetically sequenced, the LBV expert described. When examining the animals’ legacies, it would also be possible to find out whether they are under stress or not: If many stress hormones were detected in the feces in a certain zone, this could be a sign that a wildlife protection zone should be set up here.

Capercaillie is very demanding

Capercaillie is very demanding. Chicks, for example, mainly feed on blueberries – but the bushes have to be high enough that the small animals cannot be caught by birds of prey. Older animals need sand baths to care for their feathers. “Sand is rather rare in the forest, but they need that,” said Thassler. And finally: For courtship, the animals need trees with strongly spreading and strong branches to sit on. A spruce forest with thin branches is therefore not suitable for capercaillie. Forest management contradicts the conditions that capercaillies need. It is currently also unclear in what condition the population of the Fichtelgebirge is. One suspects that the stock has stagnated for years, said Thassler. At the same time, one knows about migratory movements – that is, that birds from the Czech Republic come to the Fichtelgebirge. The animals feel most comfortable from a height of 700 meters. Since the forests used to be lighter, they also lived in lower elevations in the 19th century.

The animals have withdrawn to their last refuges

Now the capercaillie have withdrawn to their “last refuges”, Thassler described. There are good conditions for this in the Fichtelgebirge, especially on the Schneeberg, which was used for military purposes until the 1990s and was therefore a restricted area. A concept was developed on the Schneeberg in 2021 to keep hikers on the trails and thus better protect the habitats of the capercaillie from disturbances. In autumn, the LBV and its partners expect the results of their investigations on capercaillie on the Schneeberg. Then there would be a solid database to be able to expand protection zones, for example, emphasized Thassler.

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