|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
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?