Willow ptarmigan (Lagopus lagopus) and rock ptarmigan (L. mutus) are the only grouse native to both Old and New Worlds. Willow ptarmigan has circumpolar distribution. In Canada, it occupies higher western mountain elevations and tundra habitats as far north as Melville Island. Rock ptarmigan, the most northern grouse, prefer habitats higher and drier than those of willow ptarmigan. Both are strong fliers but rock ptarmigan are more migratory, moving from high latitudes to escape the dark arctic winter.
White-tailed ptarmigan (L. leucurus), the smallest grouse, lacks the black tail common to the other two. It is found only in North America, occupying windswept upper slopes of the western mountains year-round. Its high-pitched, cackling scream contrasts with guttural calls of the others.
All ptarmigan nest on the ground, laying 6-10 cryptically marked eggs. Incubation is by females; males frequently abandon their territories at this time. Male willow ptarmigan usually remain and may assist in raising chicks, a trait not found in most grouse. Ptarmigan are important GAME BIRDS.
See also ANIMALS IN WINTER.
Author S.D. MACDONALD
Links to Other Sites
All About Birds
Search this online bird identification guide for information on specific bird species found in North America. Click on the dynamic map of eBird sightings for a magnified view. From the Cornell Lab of Ornithology in the US.
See a description of the natural history and typical habitat of the Ptarmigan in Canada. From the "Hinterland Who's Who" website. Also includes video clips, summaries of related conservation issues, and educational resources.
Shawnadithit grew anxious waiting for her uncle, Longnon, to return to camp at the junction of Badger Brook and the Exploits River, deep in the wilds of Newfoundland...