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New capercaillie lek experience at Balmoral

14th December 2023

The elusive mating ritual of one of our most endangered birds can now be seen without any risk of disturbance thanks to a fantastic new capercaillie visitor attraction on Balmoral Estate.

The capercaillie lek is one of nature’s wonders, where the turkey-sized males square up to each other to prove to a hen that they are a worthy mate. But with less than 600 capercaillie now left in Scotland they are protected and it is an offence to disturb them during the mating season, which is why this new ‘virtual lek’ has been created.

For the first time, visitors to Balmoral will be able to feel what it’s like to be in a Scots pine forest at first light when capercaillie are lekking. Immersed in the sights and sounds of the Caledonian forest, recreated in the mews of Balmoral Castle, visitors will be able to experience lekking capercaillie up-close on a huge high definition screen and learn all about the bird in Royal Deeside through interactive elements suitable for all ages.

The visitor experience is part of The National Lottery Heritage Fund supported, Cairngorms Capercaillie Project, which aims to raise public awareness about the plight of capercaillie and how people can help. Project Manager Carolyn Robertson explains “Human disturbance is threatening to push capercaillie closer to extinction and with only 532 capercaillie left in the UK, we’re urging people to not go looking for the birds. Disturbance can stop them from breeding and cause them unnecessary stress. It is also a criminal offence to disturb capercaillie whilst they are lekking, nesting and raising young. But we know that so many people would love to see capercaillie, so the lek experience is about making that possible without causing issues for the bird.”

Capercaillie used to live throughout Royal Deeside, but the area is now home to an extremely vulnerable capercaillie population. Richard Gledson, Factor at Balmoral Estate, explains, “Many of our visitors come to Balmoral to experience the wonderful nature of the Cairngorms but sadly capercaillie numbers are now critically low due a range of issues, including human disturbance. We are working with the Cairngorms Capercaillie Project and alongside other land managers to help improve this situation and we’re delighted to be able to offer this unique experience to help more people enjoy and learn about this iconic bird in Royal Deeside.”

The lek experience is free for visitors to Balmoral Estate, the estate is open on selected dates over the winter months with free admission, for more information visit