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White-tailed Ptarmigan

Lagopus leucurus

Appearance

White-tailed ptarmigans have brown or gray backs, white wings and bellies in the summer, and completely white tail feathers. They grow to 40 centimetres long, with a small, sharp, black beak and feathers covering their toes. The males have a red comb, like a rooster, above their eyes.

Range & Habitat

These ptarmigans are found only in North America, from Alaska to Mexico in the Cascade and Rocky mountains. They live only in alpine areas, near rocky areas and high meadows.

Diet & Behaviour

They eat mostly moss, berries and other plant parts or insects, but sometimes lichens if that is to be found. White-tailed ptarmigans will also eat the needles and buds of conifers. Ptarmigans change the colour of their feathers in winter and summer so they can blend in with their habitat and be protected from predators. Mother ptarmigans teach their young what food is good to eat.

Lifecycle & Threats

All ptarmigans mate for life. They build their nest in moist areas on their ground with feathers and grasses, and their young hatch after about three weeks. Only the mother looks after the young. Wolves, foxes, lynx and other carnivores prey on ptarmigans. They are also threatened because their habitat is very sensitive to disturbance, and recreation, fires and other human activities can affect them. White-tailed ptarmigans are particularly threatened by domestic animals, especially sheep, overgrazing on their alpine habitats.

Status

COSEWIC: Not at Risk
CDC: Yellow

More Information

www.allaboutbirds.org

Photo: Richard Droker