There are three species of ptarmigan that live in the northern areas of Scandinavia, Siberia, Alaska, arctic Canada, Greenland, and Iceland, with an isolated population in Europe and Asia.
The ptarmigan lives among rocks with little vegetation at an altitude of 2,000 feet (609.6 m) or more in severe habitat.
This unique bird has three different plumages. In the spring and summer, the upper parts are spotted gray or brown, the wings and underside are white.
In the winter, the ptarmigan is completely white except for black on its tail and the male has black eye patches. The whiteness of the plumage in winter serves as more than camouflage as it also reduces heat loss from the body. In the early spring or fall, the feathers are a mixture of brown and white as they change from one color to the other. It also has feathers on its legs and toes allowing it to walk on top of the snow. There is a red wattle over each eye. In the winter, the ptarmigan can burrow under the snow as a shelter to spend the night. In the summer, it likes to sunbathe and roll in the dust.
It feeds mainly in the early morning or early evening on a diet consisting of seeds, bulbs, shoots, leaves, berries, and insects.
Ptarmigans fly up and down with ease over hollows and hills. They walk with a rolling gait and when alarmed, they crouch low to the ground. Their plumage, whatever the season, serves as excellent camouflage blending into the colors of the ground. They fly only when danger is close.
In the spring, the female will make a small clearing, which serves as a nest among short grass or low plants. She lays 5 to 9 eggs at intervals of 1 to 2 days. When her clutch is complete, only the female will incubate while the male keeps close watch nearby. The chicks hatch after 24 to 26 days and are tended by the female while guarded by the male. They are able to fly in about 10 days. The family stays together until autumn when several birds come together to form a large flock.
Some of the enemies of the ptarmigan include birds of prey, fox, and lynx.
Galliformes • Tetraonidae • Lagopus mutus
Weight: 15–20 ounces (425–600 g)
Length: 14 inches (42 cm)
Wing Span: 27–30 inches (69.2–76.9 cm)
Life Span: 4–10 years
Special Design Feature: The feathers of the ptarmigan change color with the seasons.
Did You Know? The legs and toes of the ptarmigan are covered with feathers enabling this bird to walk on snow without sinking.