Rock Ptarmigan (Lagopus mutus)


The Rock Ptarmigan (Lagopus mutus) has features similar to a chicken with a small black bill. The tail is a square shape and it is between 11 to 16 inches long. The Ptarmigan’s legs and toes are feathered, which helps them walk through the snow and keep warm without a problem. During the summer periods the male Ptarmigan has as whitish belly and wings with a dappled grey and brown back. The male bird has a red comb that falls over their eyes. The females on the other hand are completely dappled grey and brown. In winter the Rock Ptarmigan’s coloring completely changes to a snow-white color, excepting for a black tip on its tail and a black line over its eyes.

The Ptarmigan’s territory is circumpolar, which means it spreads in a circle around the arctic. In North America they can be found in Northern Canada and Alaska and in other places like Scandinavia, Greenland, Finland and Russia. Their habitat is mainly in upland tundras that have willows, thickets and heath, and in alpine areas. They eat insects now and again but their diet is mainly made up of a variety of different plant parts, which include twigs, buds and berries.

The adult Rock Ptarmigan will look for a suitable breeding territory and once he has selected one he will protect it from other male birds. The male Ptarmigan will protect his territory with aerial displays, by chasing other males or by calls. Aerial displays consist of the male leaping into the air while flapping his wings; he flies straight up, then fans his tail out and gently glides back to the ground.

The Rock Ptarmigans‘ courtship is something to watch, the male will drag one of his wings on the ground, fan his tail out, raise his red comb and basically circle the female he is interested in. The female will make a nest out of a sheltered hollow and line it with pieces of moss and grass. Here she will lay between six and ten eggs. The male and female will stay paired up until incubation reaches half way, from then on the female Ptarmigan is on her own. After just under a month the chicks will hatch. A day after the chicks have hatched they are already searching for food in amongst the tundra. The chicks fledge after two weeks and are completely independent from about three months.