The Crawleys Go Hunting On 'Downton Abbey' During The Season 5 Christmas Special, But What Are The Grouse They Are Shooting Down?

Lord Grantham says in the Season 5 Downton Abbey Christmas special, "Lord Sinderby has rented Brancaster Castle for the grouse." Uh, mind my ignorance, but there are so many words in that sentence that don't add up in my American modern-day mind, so let's start with what the grouse are that Robert speaks of on Downton Abbey . Yes, a grouse is a bird (like Daisy, I've been improving my mind with education), but the way the Crawley family so casually refers to the little guys can be a bit confusing.

Not to go all amateur speech on you, but the Oxford Dictionary (Downton Abbey is British after all) defines grouse as:

"A medium to large game bird with a plump body and feathered legs, the male being larger and more brightly coloured than the female."

There are lots of birds with the name "grouse," like the spruce grouse and the sharp-tailed grouse (all of which sound vaguely familiar, but I could never have told you what they are). And grouse aren't just in the U.K. with Encyclopedia Brittanica saying the most well-known grouse in North America is the ruffed grouse, which is often called a partridge in New England.

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This is probably more information than any Downton Abbey fan needs to know about grouse, but a significant portion of the Season 5 finale episode takes place with the Crawley family hunting these birds. (Poor Robert has to hunt without his dog Isis this year.) Lord Grantham and crew join Rose's new in-laws at Brancaster Castle in Northumberland to go hunting. Even Tom Branson gets to play along (to the chagrin of Lord Sinderby's snooty butler) since he's part of the family — and it doesn't hurt that he has proven he's a good shot (he had some practice in Ireland with shooting pigeons).

Of course, the women don't hunt (that wouldn't be respectable!), so they get paired off with a man who is hunting and chitchat with them. (Don't mind the servants like Thomas who accompany the men — they aren't good enough conversational partners for the wealthy men apparently.) And a surprise hunting guest in the Season 5 Christmas special is Henry Talbot (portrayed by Matthew Goode!) — who happens to get coupled off with Mary and evidently impresses her (which we know is no easy task).

This isn't the first time Downton Abbey has been all about the grouse. Back in Season 1, Dowager Countess Violet said, "We’ll give her till the start of the grouse," which means when the grouse hunting season starts. The first day of grouse hunting season in England, Scotland, Wales, and Ireland is Aug. 12 and is referred to as "The Glorious Twelfth." Obviously a sport for rich men during the days of Downton Abbey, The Independent wrote in 2014 that "hunting holidays can cost thousands of pounds" even now.

Although not all of us are like the Crawleys and can afford to go grouse hunting (or perhaps we have moral conflicts with hunting these birds), us Americans can still enjoy the banter that the hunting provides during the Downton Abbey Christmas special on March 1.

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