Animals

Ptarmigan Facts

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Ptarmigan is a group of three bird species from the Lagopus genus of the Phasianidae family. The species of ptarmigan include the rock ptarmigan (Lagopus muta), the white-tailed ptarmigan (Lagopus lecura), and the willow ptarmigan (Lagopus lagopus). They are native to North America. Their habitat includes tundra, arctic tundra, alpine range, and grasslands. Lagopus birds are migratory. During summer, they live in rocky grasslands and migrate to their winter range with the change of season. Ptarmigans are easily identified by their grouse-like structure and brown feathers. They can change their coloration to snow-white from their brown shade in summer, except their black tail. In summer, a female ptarmigan returns to its brown shade quicker than males. This winter plumage helps them to blend in a snowy arctic region. Many carnivorous birds, along with natives of North American tribes, eat the delicious meat of these birds.

Their breeding season takes place in spring and summer and four to seven chicks are born per clutch. They build their nest on the ground and the breeding pair protect their nest together.

Continue reading for more information about these animals. For other birds, take a look at these articles on the wandering albatross and swallow.

Ptarmigan

Fact File

What do they prey on?

Insects, spiders, and snails

What do they eat?

Omnivore

Average litter size?

4-7

How much do they weigh?

12.3-28.5 oz (350-810 g)

How long are they?

11-14 in (28-35.5 cm)

How tall are they?

N/A

What do they look like?

Gray, white, dark brown, and light brown

Skin Type

Feathers

What are their main threats?

Humans and predators

What is their conservation status?

Least Concern

Where you'll find them

Tundra, arctic tundra, and grasslands

Locations

North America, Japan, and Europe

Kingdom

Animalia

Class

Aves

Scientific Name

Lagopus muta

Family

Phasianidae

Genus

Lagopus

Ptarmigan Interesting Facts

What type of animal is a ptarmigan?

Ptarmigan is the common name for three species of birds from the Lagopus genus of the Phasianidae family. These three species are white-tailed ptarmigan, rock ptarmigan,  and willow ptarmigan. They are popular North American birds.

What class of animal does a ptarmigan belong to?

They belong to the Aves class of the Animalia kingdom.

How many ptarmigan are there in the world?

According to the International Union For Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List, there are approximately 5 to 24.9 million rock ptarmigans in our world. As they are vastly distributed and a common bird, the exact statistics of populations of the other two species is not known yet. However, IUCN states that the population strength of all three species is decreasing.

Where does a ptarmigan live?

Ptarmigans are native to North America. They are easily spotted in Victoria Island, south Alaska, Southampton Island, and central Ontario. Apart from that, they are spotted in Scandinavian regions, northern Eurasia, Russia, the United Kingdom, South Canada, and Japan.

What is a ptarmigan's habitat?

A ptarmigan's primary habitats include grasslands and tundra regions. During warmer months, they live in grasslands with plenty of rocks. During winter, they migrate to Arctic tundra regions and alpine habitats. White-tailed ptarmigans and willow ptarmigans are more commonly found in cold habitats such as Russia. White-tailed ptarmigans are very fond of willow trees.

Who do ptarmigans live with?

Lagopus birds fly in small to large-sized flocks. During winter, they can form large flocks consisting of up to 80 individuals, and fly to their winter site.

How long does a ptarmigan live?

With proper nutrition, ptarmigans can live up to eight to nine years. The population turnover ratios of all three species are on the larger scale as most of them die pretty young due to predation, severe weather conditions, and climate change.

How do they reproduce?

Rock ptarmigan birds follow both polygynous and monogamous mating systems. Their breeding season takes place in spring and summer. Male Lagopus mutas return from their winter site before females and select the breeding range and prepares their nest on the ground. They make their nests with grass, leaves, and feathers, and in close proximity to other nests. Similar to other species and subspecies of birds, they perform courtship displays to attract females. This includes tail-fanning, bowing down the head, and rapid stampings.

Females lay four to seven eggs per clutch after an incubation period of 20 to 23 days. However, a willow ptarmigan can lay up to 14 eggs. The chicks gain their independence soon after and attain sexual maturity at the age of one.

What is their conservation status?

All three species of ptarmigans are listed as a species of Least Concern by the International Union For Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List. However, they have also stated that the population trend of all three species is decreasing.

Ptarmigan Fun Facts

What do ptarmigans look like?

By appearance, they share a close resemblance with a grouse. Ptarmigans come with gray, white, and brown colored feathers with a special feathered coating on their feet. It enables their feet to walk in the snow with ease. Their main adaptive ability is their winter plumage. They turn their feathers to snow white to blend better. This white color in a snowy range helps them evade predation, though their tail feathers remain black throughout the year. Starting from spring, they return to their shade of brown. One interesting fact is that male birds can keep their winter plumage longer than females.

Ptarmigans' winter plumage helps them to blend with other wintering birds and snow to avoid predation.

How cute are they?

If you find a grouse cute, then you'll adore a rock ptarmigan bird especially when they are covered with snow-white feathers.

How do they communicate?

Ptarmigan birds communicate through various calls. Ornithologists have recorded around 11 different calls. During the breeding season, both genders protect their breeding territory. A male bird performs harsh strident calls while chasing off an intruder.

How big is a ptarmigan ?

The length of this bird ranges between 11-14 in (28-35.5 cm), with a wingspan of 21–24 in (50-61 cm). Willow ptarmigans can grow up to 17 in (43 cm) as well. A ptarmigan is somewhat smaller in size than a domestic chicken.

How fast can a ptarmigan fly?

Though ptarmigans spend most of their time on the ground, they can fly great distances as well. However, the exact speed at which they fly is not known yet.

How much does a ptarmigan weigh?

Depending on their diet, these birds can weigh 12.3-28.5 oz (350-810 g). The willow ptarmigan is the heaviest bird among them, weighing up to 28.5 oz (810 g).

What are their male and female names of the species?

Similar to other species and subspecies of birds, male and female ptarmigans are called cock and hen respectively.

What would you call a baby ptarmigan?

A baby ptarmigan (Lagopus muta) is called a chick.

What do they eat?

Ptarmigans are ground-feeding omnivorous birds. They prey on various insects such as caterpillars, beetles, and spiders. In their plant-based diet, they feed on willow buds, twigs, blueberries, grass shoots, and seeds. The chicks have a higher appetite than an adult bird.

Are they dangerous?

This bird is gentle-natured. However, just like any other living being, they can portray aggressive behavior when threatened.

Would they make a good pet?

The answer is no! In many states, they are illegal to own. Apart from that, they are wild birds and hard to tame.

Did you know...

A ptarmigan (Lagopus muta) is much more adaptive to harsh winters than many other species of birds. Along with their special plumage, they can roost in snow as well. Their feet are naturally adapted to walk in the snow.

If you are a resident of Montana, you can spot white-tailed ptarmigans in your state pretty easily.

Rock ptarmigan meat is very delicious and healthy. North American tribe members relish the taste of ptarmigan mean.

A rock ptarmigan flies from one snowbank to another to deceive its predators.

What animals eat ptarmigans?

Predation is one of the main reasons for their continuously decreasing population. Natives of North American tribes feed on rock ptarmigan meat. Apart from that predators such as ravens, gulls, hawks, eagles, foxes, bears, and wolves prey on ptarmigans.

Is a ptarmigan a grouse?

A rock ptarmigan is closely related to a grouse. However, there are some key differences in their length and feathers. A grouse is slightly bigger compared to a rock ptarmigan. Also, a ptarmigan's coloration is paler than a grouse.

Here at Kidadl, we have carefully created lots of interesting family-friendly animal facts for everyone to discover! Learn more about some other birds including song thrush, or umbrellabird.

You can even occupy yourself at home by drawing one on our Arabian grosbeak coloring pages.

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