Montane and alpine habitats in Europe remained relatively undisturbed until the beginning of the last century. Today, outdoor recreation activities are a major economic factor
in alpine regions. Many tourism areas coincide with winter habitats of shy and endangered species. The Western Capercaillie Tetrao urogallus has suffered from rapid population declines during recent decades over much of its range. In central Europe, many Capercaillie are exposed to intensive human recreation activities in their habitats, which may contribute to this decline. However, little is known about their susceptibility to human recreation activities. This study assessed whether human recreation in winter evokes physiological stress responses in several populations of Capercaillie. During two winters, we sampled 1130 Capercaillie droppings in Germany and Switzerland of populations at various distances from winter recreation activities and measured concentrations of faecal corticosterone metabolites. Capercaillie in relatively dense and homogeneous mountain forests dominated by Norway Spruce Picea abies showed markedly increased stress hormone levels closer to locations with winter recreation activity. However, this physiological response to human recreation was not detectable in forests dominated by various pine species and a heterogeneous structure. Capercaillie may be particularly sensitive to recreation because any factor affecting their fine-tuned physiological and behavioural adaptations to survive under harsh winter conditions may lead to harmful fitness costs.