On photo stalking in Sweden (Westergotland)

Mating-mad capercaillie tries to tread on photographer

While on a photo tour in a primaeval part of forest near the small town of Vargarda in the Swedish Westergotland in April, we are a bit surprised to hear the mating song of a capercaillie. Carefully, always looking for cover our Swedish friend Tage Knutsson, who still takes photographs of all the wild animals near his home with old Novoflex lenses, guides us to the big wood cock at a distance of about 30 metres.

The cock (Tetrao urogallus) is standing in mating position on a small clearing in bright sunlight. Suddenly after a strong beating of wings and a leap into the air his display eagerness peters out. It has noticed us and will fly off, I think. But far from it, the cock approaches the rock behind which we are hiding until there are only two metres left. The sounds of the camera triggers do not seem to disturb it at all. The Polish animal photographer Leszek K. Sawicki, well known in his own country and Sweden, takes one step forward to get the cock, whose neck and breast are a bright metallic blue and green in the sunlight, fully in the viewfinder of his camera. Now it happens: the cock leaps at him. Our Polish friend tries to ward off the bird with his free arm. But the cock is not to be chased away; it seems to see the movement of the arm as an invitation. It climbs onto the photographer’s shoulder, remains there for a moment, and then jumps with lightning speed onto his head where it obviously tries to “tread”. After our first surprise we press the trigger of our cameras. This unique chance - mating-mad capercaillie on photographer`s head we won`t miss. Although the light intensity isn`t too good any more, we shoot like mad. Even Hansgeorg Arndt, our grand old man always very careful with his films, doesn`t stop shooting.

Later, he drily tells our Polish photographer friend, that in his opinion the cause of the cock’s strange behaviour must surely be found in the friend’s beautiful hunting cap. The phenomenon of the capercaillies’ mating-madness is well-known, although the term is not correct, because this aggressive behaviour hasn’t got anything to do with courtship but shows an excessive territorial defence. The big cock wants to keep away rivals from his mating ground during the mating season. Scientists estimate that there are 1 per cent of mating-mad capercaillies in Europe. Even hens occasionally show an abnormal behaviour. They lose every reserve, can be touched and carried around but never attack people. Today we know that capercaillies showing this abnormal behaviour always are older but completely healthy specimen. Because this behaviour is only watched at springtime it could be a deviation of hormones. Tests of the testosterone contents of the mating-mad cocks’ blood has shown a high increase. Why or how has not been found out yet.



Text & Photos: Jürgen Schiersmann