Rock Ptarmigan - Lagopus mutus
The rock ptarmigan is a chicken-like bird about 11-16 inches in length. It has a square tail and a small black bill. It has feathered legs and toes that help it walk in the snow and help keep it warm.
In summer, males have a whitish belly and wings and are speckled brown and gray on their backs. Females are a speckled brown and gray. Males have a red comb over their eyes. In winter, the rock ptarmigan is all white, except for a black tipped tail and a black line across its eyes.
The range of the rock ptarmigan is circumpolar. Its territory spreads in a circle around the Arctic. In North America, it is found in Alaska and northern Canada. It is also found in Scandinavia, Russia, Finland, Greenland.
The rock ptarmigan lives on upland tundras. In the winter it may move to forest edges and thickets.
Adult rock ptarmigans eat a variety of plant parts including berries, buds, and twigs. They may also eat some insects.
Males will select a breeding territory and protect it from other males. Males protect their territory with aerial displays, chases, and calls. They leap into the air and flap their wings, fly straight up, fan out their tails and glide back to the ground. During courtship, the male drags one wing on the ground, fans out his tail, raises his red comb, and circles the female.
The female lays 6-10 eggs in a sheltered hollow lined with grass and moss. The male and female stay together until incubation reaches the halfway mark, then the male leaves. The chicks hatch after 21-24 days. The female raises the chicks, who are walking around the tundra searching for insects to eat a day after birth. They fledge when they are 10-12 days old and are fully independent at about three months.
Rock ptarmigan don't leave the tundra in winter, but they may migrate short distances to lowland areas in search of food. In the winter, males and females live in separate groups.
Audio Credit: xeno-canto.org Patrik Aberg