White-tailed Ptarmigan - Photo Copyright Ward Cameron 2003 - Click to view a larger image White-tailed Ptarmigan - Photo Copyright Ward Cameron 2003 - Click to view a larger image White-tailed Ptarmigan - Photo Copyright Ward Cameron 2003 - Click to view a larger image White-tailed Ptarmigan - Photo Copyright Ward Cameron 2003 - Click to view a larger image  
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Mountain Nature Network has become THE place for learning about the birds of the Canadian Rockies.

White-tailed Ptarmigan
Lagopus leucurus

Grouse-like Birds
Grouse Family (Phasianidae)

Size: Length: 31-36 cm

Description: In summer, the white-tailed ptarmigan is a mottled brown bird with a white eye-ring and an orange-red comb. The mottled plumage is interrupted by white patches on the wings, back and underside, making an irregular pattern of brown and white patches. The legs are white and the feet heavily feathered. The tail is pure white, with no black markings. Females lack the orange-red comb and may show some dark banding across the breast.

In winter, they gradually lose their brown summer coat and turn snow-white in colour. Their entire plumage turns white, and only their black eye and bill stand out.

Similar Species: The willow ptarmigan is similar to the white-tailed ptarmigan, but has a black outer margin to its tail both summer and winter. Another distinguishing factor is the range. Willow ptarmigan are only found in the northern Canadian Rockies, from the northern section of Jasper National Park and north to the Kakwa region. For most visitors to the Rockies, they will only encounter the white-tailed ptarmigan.

Range: The white-tailed ptarmigan is found throughout the Canadian and northern U.S. Rockies, There are local populations farther south in the U.S. Rockies as well.

Habitat: The white-tailed ptarmigan is a creature of the high country. Look for it at subalpine elevations and above, where it can eke out a rugged existence. It may drop in elevation in winter, moving below the treeline.

Diet: They feed on buds, leaves, seeds and flowers at high elevations. They also eat some insects. They rely on willow buds during the long winter months.

Nesting: The rough nest is a depression lined with leaves and other soft materials. The female lays between 4 and 7 (up to 9) eggs, and will incubate them without assistance. The eggs are light buff to pinkish with few markings. They are generally lightly speckled with darker brown. Incubation is 22-23 days, after which the precocial hatchlings will quickly leave the nest. They can fly at approximately 10 days, and will stay together until the following spring.

Other Details: Ptarmigan have given many a winter traveler a near heart attack. To stay warm in the winter, groups of ptarmigan will dig into the snow, and allow fresh snow to completely cover them. Since they are not afraid of people, they may not flush until you are almost on top of them. When they do, the entire area may explode with white feathers and flying ptarmigan.

Related Links:

Hinterland Who's Who - Ptarmigan

Search for recent White-tailed Ptarmigan sightings

Hire an expert guide to help you locate White-tailed Ptarmigan

Bird watching in the Canadian Rockies offers endless opportunities for seeing new species. Mountain Nature Network is your source for birding and bird biology.


All Material Ward Cameron 2005

 

 

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