CAPERCALLY, or Caperkally, a bird’s name commonly derived from the Gaelic capull, a horse (or, more properly, a mare), and coille, a wood, but with greater likelihood, according to the opinion of Dr M‘Lauchlan, from cabher, an old man (and, by metaphor, an old bird), and coille, the name of Tetrao urogallus, the largest of the grouse family (Tetraonidae), and a species which was formerly indigenous to Scotland and Ireland. The word is frequently spelt otherwise, as capercalze, capercailzie (the z, a letter unknown in Gaelic, being pronounced like y), and capercaillie, and the English name of wood-grouse or cock-of-the-wood has been often applied to the same bird. The earliest notice of it as an inhabitant of North Britain seems to be by Hector Boethius, whose works were published in 1526, and it can then be traced through various Scottish writers, to whom, however, it was evidently but little known, for about 200 years, or may be more, and by one of them only, Bishop Lesley, in 1578, was a definite habitat assigned to it:—“In Rossia quoque Louguhabria [Lochaber], atque aliis montanis locis” (De Origine Moribus et rebus gestis Scotorum. Romae: ed. 1675, p. 24). Pennant, during one of his tours in Scotland, found that it was then (1769) still to be met with in Glen Moriston and in The Chisholm’s country, whence he saw a cock-bird. We may infer that it became extinct about that time, since Robert Gray (Birds of the West of Scotland, p. 229) quotes the Rev. John Grant as writing in 1794: “The last seen in Scotland was in the woods of Strathglass about thirty-two years ago.” Of its existence in Ireland we have scarcely more details. If we may credit the Pavones sylvestres of Giraldus Cambrensis with being of this species, it was once abundant there, and Willughby (1678) was told that it was known in that kingdom as the “cock-of-the-wood.” A few other writers mention it by the same name, and John Rutty, in 1772, says (Nat. Hist. Dublin, i.p. 302) that “one was seen in the county of Leitrim about the year 1710, but they have entirely disappeared of late, by reason of the destruction of our woods.” Pennant also states that about 1760 a few were to be found about Thomastown in Tipperary, but no later evidence is forthcoming, and thus it would seem that the species was exterminated at nearly the same period in both Ireland and Scotland.
When the practice of planting was introduced, the restoration of this fine bird to both countries was attempted. In Ireland the trial, of which some particulars are given by J. Vaughan Thompson (Birds of Ireland, ii. 32), was made at Glengariff, but it seems to have utterly failed, whereas in Scotland, where it was begun at Taymouth, it finally succeeded, and the species is now not only firmly established, but is increasing in numbers and range. Mr L. Lloyd, the author of several excellent works on the wild sports and natural history of Scandinavia, supplied the stock from Sweden, but it must be always borne in mind that the original British race was wholly extinct, and no remains of it are known to exist in any museum.
This species is widely, though intermittently, distributed on the continent of Europe, from Lapland to the northern parts of Spain, Italy and Greece, but is always restricted to pine-forests, which alone afford it food in winter. Its bones have been found in the kitchen-middens of Denmark, proving that country to have once been clothed with woods of that kind. Its remains have also been recognized from the caves of Aquitaine. Its eastern or southern limits in Asia cannot be precisely given, but it certainly inhabits the forests of a great part of Siberia. On the Stannovoi Mountains, however, it is replaced by a distinct though nearly allied species, the T. urogalloides of Dr von Middendorff, which is smaller with a slenderer bill but longer tail.
The cock-of-the-wood is remarkable for his large size and dark plumage, with the breast metallic green. He is polygamous, and in spring mounts to the topmost bough of a tall tree, whence he challenges all comers by extraordinary sounds and gestures; while the hens, which are much smaller and mottled in colour, timidly abide below the result of the frequent duels, patiently submitting themselves to the victor. While this is going on it is the practice in many countries, though generally in defiance of the law, for the so-called sportsman stealthily to draw nigh, and with well-aimed gun to murder the principal performer in the scene. The hen makes an artless nest on the ground, and lays therein from seven to nine or even more eggs. The young are able to fly soon after they are hatched, and towards the end of summer and beginning of autumn, from feeding on the fruit and leaves of the bilberries and other similar plants, which form the undercovert of the forests, get into excellent condition and become good eating. With the first heavy falls of snow they betake themselves to the trees, and then, feeding on the pine-leaves, their flesh speedily acquires so strong a flavour of turpentine as to be distasteful to most palates. The usual method of pursuing this species on the continent of Europe is by encouraging a trained dog to range the forest and spring the birds, which then perch on the trees; while he is baying at the foot their attention is so much attracted by him that they permit the near approach of his master, who thus obtains a more or less easy shot. A considerable number, however, are also snared. Hybrids are very frequently produced between the capercally and the black grouse (T. tetrix), and the offspring has been described by some authors under the name of T. medius, as though a distinct species. (A. N.)
- This is the spelling of the old law-books, as given by Pennant, the zoologist, who, on something more than mere report, first included this bird among the British fauna. The only one of the “Scots Acts,” however, in which the present writer has been able to ascertain that the bird is named is No. 30 of James VI. (1621), which was passed to protect “powties, partrikes, moore foulles, blakcoks, gray hennis, termigantis, quailzies, capercailzies,” &c.
- Not to be confounded with the bird so named previously by Prof. Nilsson, which is a hybrid.