Wednesday, November 21, 2012

White-tailed Ptarmigans

Unable to find a share-able photo of a white-tailed ptarmigan, I offer you instead
this closely-related rock ptarmigan ~ photo by brettocop on Flickr 
These pretty white birds are sometimes called snow grouse, but if you call them ptarmigans, remember to leave off the silent "p" when you ptalk about pthem.

They're not white all year-round, but from the photo you can see how handy it is to be white in the snow. These birds spend their whole lives trying to look like something else--something inedible. Snow, or in the summer, just another boulder in the talus of a mountain. 

Ptarmigans have camouflaging mottled brown feathers in the warmer months, which they achieve via a seasonal molt. As the days begin to lengthen, the white plumage gives way to the darker feathers. The molt begins at the head and progresses down the body, nicely matching the melting snow and emerging turf. From the time the molt begins, the birds avoid pure white expanses of snow. 

True to their names, the Pacific Northwest's white-tailed ptarmigans retain an edge of white feathers on their tails, as well as on their bellies or legs.

Have you ever managed to spot one of these beauties in the wild?

5 comments:

  1. Nope, but endeavors to find ptarmigans led me to some beautiful hikes at Mount Rainier NP. =)

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  2. I may have seen some summer ptarmigans. They startled and scattered out from underfoot and scared me so much that I'm not sure what they looked like.

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  3. No, I have never seen one.

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  4. Never saw one but read about them in my "cabin in Alaska" craze in my 20's. Read the books by Bud and Connie Helmrick's and was seized with homesteading fever. Needless to say, an unrequited passion. But I remember they ate ptarmigans on their honeymoon trip down some wild Alaskan river in the 194o's.

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