White-tailed Ptarmigan

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The White-tailed Ptarmigan is the only bird to permanently reside in the alpine zone. This zone includes rocky areas, krummholz, snowfields, and meadows.

The White-tailed Ptarmigan is the smallest of the ptarmigans and the smallest bird in the grouse family. Adults are 11.8 to 12.2 inches (30 to 31 cm) long, with the males being only slightly larger than the females. In the winter, this bird displays white plumage, while it appears grayish brown and speckled during the summer months. Both sexes maintain white tail and wing feathers year-round, and males are identified by reddish eyecombs year-round.

The White-tailed Ptarmigan is the only bird to permanently reside in the alpine zone. This zone includes rocky areas, krummholz, snowfields, and meadows.

Diet varies seasonally; nitrogen-rich snow buttercup leaves are favored in the spring season, while willow catkins, alpine avens flowers, and chickweed blooms form the majority of the ptarmigan’s diet in the summer. Once fall and winter arrive to the region, the ptarmigan prefers seeds, willow buds and twigs.

Ptarmigan chicks begin their lives eating insects. Once the chicks’ digestive tracts are more fully developed, their diets shift to one of flowers and leaves. Hens choose foraging patches where plant species containing proteins are abundant. The hens call their chicks to these plants, which are critical for the growth and development of the chicks. This suggests that the hens’ food calls assist in enhancing survival rates of juvenile ptarmigans.