The Caucasian Black Grouse Tetrao mlokosiewiczi, known locally as Dağ Horozu (‘cockerel of the mountain’) or Huş Tavuğu (‘birch chicken’), is one of the least known birds in Turkey.
It is also one of only two species of bird in Europe classified as Data Deficient (the other being Scottish Crossbill Loxia scotica).
According to BirdLife’s Birds in Europe (2004), the grouse has an estimated population of 3,000 to 4,500 birds in Turkey.
Since February 2004, Doğa Derneği (BirdLife in Turkey) has been carrying out an exciting two-year project aimed at increasing our knowledge and understanding of the species in Turkey and developing a plan to help its conservation.
Because of the difficulties of studying Caucasian Black Grouse – the species is distributed patchily over large areas of remote, rugged, inhospitable terrain – producing a revised population estimate and distribution map has required a combination of desk study, fieldwork and computer modeling.
Fieldwork has been carried out in spring and autumn and a total of 283 birds were recorded from 42 locations, 27 of them previously undocumented.
Although many of the ‘new’ sites filled gaps within the published distribution, the species’ range has been extended eastwards and southwards near to the Georgian border.
Based on the project’s findings, the Turkish population is now estimated at 1,508–2,675 birds.
A prime habitat of the grouse is rhododendron scrub associated with botanically-rich sub-alpine meadows, a habitat that relies on grazing and hay cutting for its maintenance.
Therefore people are a vital part of the species’ future.
Another project activity is the development of a demonstration management plan for one key site.
Posof, on the Turkish-Georgian border, has been selected for this and, following a local meeting in September 2005, a proposal has been prepared which aims to bring together local initiatives for the development of organic farming, especially honey production using the endemic Caucasian bee, nature-based tourism, public awareness-raising and nature conservation.
In addition to Caucasian Black Grouse, Posof is rich in large mammals such as brown bear, lynx and wolf, and other montane birds including Caspian Snowcock Tetraogallus caspius, White-winged Snowfinch Montifringilla nivalis and Horned Lark Eremophila alpestris.
The area also supports at least six endemic plants and, potentially, is the Turkish stronghold for breeding Corncrakes Crex crex.
Many of these species rely on the maintenance of traditional land management practices which have shaped the local landscape over the centuries and it is hoped that this project will enable this to continue whilst ensuring realistic incomes for local people.
More detailed information on the biodiversity of the area, land management and the ecology of the grouse are needed before a full management plan can be produced and funding for the appropriate studies is currently being sought.
The potential of using the grouse as a ‘flagship species’ for the conservation of high mountain habitats is also being researched at Ayder, in the Kaçkar Mountains National Park, Rize province, through the production of a nature-based tourism assessment.
Unlike Posof, Ayder already has high numbers of tourists but there is little control over activities and hence many problems both for wildlife and the local community – litter, pollution, traffic congestion and disturbance to name but a few.
Therefore the project has been working with local facility owners to identify practical solutions which can be implemented over the coming years to improve the situation.
There is also a lack of information on the natural riches and importance of the National Park so the project is providing information boards and posters, and also ran an eco-tourism training course in April 2006 (with funding from the IUCN Netherlands’ Biodiversity and Tourism Micro Fund).
A great deal has been achieved during the last two years but, in reality, this is just the start of a much longer project to ensure that the grouse remains a guardian of the mountains.
To celebrate the good work, the annual Caucasian Black Grouse Festival is being held this year on 24-25 June in the Ikizdere district of Rize.
National park in Georgia: here.
Red crossbill in North America: here.