Delicate operation in the Fens: birds captured in Sweden are reintroduced to avoid their extinction in Belgium

A very delicate operation took place a few days ago in the Hautes Fagnes. Scientists have reintroduced around thirty lyre tetras to us. These birds are critically endangered here. Experts traveled to Sweden to capture them during the very short courtship period.

An emblematic bird of the Hautes Fagnes is in critical danger of extinction. To save the black grouse, also called “the capercaillie”, a team of experts and volunteers has been going to Sweden for several years. The objective is to capture them, to bring them home. The operation is extremely delicate, and can only be carried out during the very short courtship period of the species.

Didier Vangeluwe is an ornithologist at the Royal Institute of Natural Sciences of Belgium. He is installed in a strange camp, at 3am: “We have just arrived on this bog, we have crossed a piece of forest which recently burned is now to observe and follow this capture session on a ring of black grouse“, he whispers.

Earlier, the group set up traps, called matoles. It is a small cage which falls on the bird, when the small rod which retains it becomes unbalanced. Efforts quickly rewarded: “There is already a male that has been captured in one of our traps. The others turn and return, parading. It’s an extraordinary behavior, a bit like peacocks, they spread their tails“rejoices Didier.

Human activity has almost caused the species to disappear in Belgium

Lyre-shaped tails that give these dancing birds their name. Black plumage and mischievous eyebrows: the Black Tetra has long been an emblematic species of the Hautes Fagnes… but today it has almost disappeared from our regions due to the destruction of its habitat by human activities.

Finally out of its cage, the male black grouse can be placed in a bag. “We will bring it back to camp, measure it, ring it, and we will position a GPS transmitter on its back.“explains Didier Vangeluwe, delicately handling the bag.

This year, the harvest is successful: 35 males and females were captured. The equipment that the teams have is fundamental,”because we absolutely want to know to what extent these grouse reintegrate into the Fagnes, and above all what are the different biotopes they will choose. In particular, what interests us the most is in which biotope they will go to feed, but also in which they will go to nest.” justifies the ornithologist.

Several female grouse have nested with us

Since 2017, three other black grouse transfers have already been organised. A program to strengthen the species led by the Institute of the Museum of Natural Sciences, the University of Liège, and the Nature and Forest Department, with the support of WWF. “One of the absolutely exceptional results is that a few weeks after their arrival in the Hautes Fagnes, several female grouse nested with us. They raised a first generation of Swedish-Walloon black grouse“enthuses Didier Vangeluwe.

In 2017, only three black grouse still lived in our region. The transfers made it possible to raise the population to about thirty individuals. They will soon be joined by this new troop.

Our Swedish dancers embark on a long journey: 2000km or nearly 24 hours of road to the flat country. They obviously adapt very well to it, according to Dylan Delvaux, the ULiège scientific attaché on the project to strengthen the population of this species: “We see that as soon as they go out, the birds feed, they look a little around and do not fly away directly. They don’t seem scared, we even have birds parading in this tunnel and in the immediate vicinity“, he says.

A crucial adaptation, because the species remains in critical danger of extinction in our country. Other transfers are planned for the next few years to bring together 160 individuals, and allow the lyre birds to once again enchant Belgium with their gallant waltzes.

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