The hazel grouse can be found all over Eurasia in boreal, montane and temperate forests, from France and Scandinavia to Japan in the east. The northern limit of their range coincides with the edge of the taiga forest, with the northernmost populations existing in Lapland and Siberia. The southern limit of the species mostly parallels the southern border of the boreal forest; however, in central Europe the hazel grouse also occurs in deciduous temperate forests and montane forests south of the boreal zone.
Population Size and Trends in Europe
In the boreal forest, the hazel grouse still occupies most of its historical range and is relatively common. In western and central Europe, major declines and range contractions have occurred prior to and within the past century. Most remaining populations are restricted to mountainous areas, and many are small and scattered. The species is considered Least Concern by the IUCN, due to its large range and high population numbers.
Habitat and Ecology
Hazel grouse inhabit mostly mixed coniferous-deciduous forests, and exhibit fairly specific requirements for habitat structure. For example, the availability of relatively dense coniferous or deciduous cover to a height of about 2m seems to be critical. However, they are found in a wide variety of habitat types fulfilling this structural requirement, such as old growth forests and managed deciduous or coniferous forests of different harvest regimes and successional stages. When there is snow on the ground, hazel grouse feed on catkins and the buds of deciduous trees, such as Alnus, Betula, Corylus, Sorbus, Fagus and Chosenia. Close interspersion of feeding trees and cover is crucial. In snow-free times, the birds feed on a variety of shrubs, herbs and grasses. Hazel grouse avoid open areas and seem to be particularly vulnerable to forest fragmentation.
Hunting and Cultural Importance
The hazel grouse is a popular game species throughout most of its range. European hunters mostly attract the birds by imitating their calls with special grouse whistles in spring and autumn. This kind of hunting is still practised in Scandinavia and Russia. In the boreal zone, however, hazel grouse are more commonly hunted with pointing dogs in autumn.
Hazel grouse hunting no longer plays any economic role in central Europe. Only a few birds are taken, and hunting is banned in several countries. Nevertheless, in parts of the boreal region hazel grouse shooting remains economically important.
Habitat loss, fragmentation and degradation related to changes in human land-use or silviculture practices are the largest threats to the hazel grouse. A loss of a dense understorey in industrial forests (central, southern Europe; Fennoscandia) and clear-cutting (boreal forest) may result in declining hazel grouse numbers. A higher predation pressure in parts of Europe, due to increasing numbers of generalist predators and wild boar, are thought to cause reduced survival and nesting success.
Current conservation measures
Priorities are currently set on habitat preservation. Habitat management for hazel grouse has been initiated in some parts of Europe with small or declining populations. Measures include maintaining coppice woodlands, favouring deciduous trees and shrubs within coniferous forests, and planting patches of conifers for cover within extensive deciduous forests. In general, the species is fully protected in countries with small and declining populations (e.g. central Europe or China).
If you have more information on the hazel grouse do not hesitate to contact us.