Comprehensive Guide to selected species of:
Birds of the Boreal Forest « back to Guide
Rock Ptarmigan Lagopus muta
Family: Pheasants and Grouse, Phasianidae
Audio: Martyn Stewart, © Naturesound.org
An estimated 30% of the species' North American breeding range lies within the Boreal Forest.
Description 13-14" (33-36 cm). In winter, entirely white except for black tail and, in males and most females, black line through eye. In summer, male is flecked with dark gray-brown, wings and belly white. Female paler, with gray, yellowish, and brown on most feathers. Smaller than Willow Ptarmigan, with smaller bill. See White-tailed Ptarmigan.
Habitat Upland tundra with thickets of willows and heaths.
Nesting 6-9 buff eggs, spotted with dark brown, in a sheltered hollow lined with grass and moss.
Voice Courting male gives a snoring kurr-kurr. Female has clucking and purring notes.
Range Breeds in Alaska and northern Canada. Winters south to tree line.
Discussion Pairs of Rock Ptarmigans remain together until midway through incubation, when the male deserts his mate. The female raises the chicks, which move about on the tundra in search of insects, buds, and berries, becoming independent at about three months old. The white winter plumage of ptarmigans provides both good camouflage and protection against the cold, because white feathers have empty cells filled with air that help in insulation, whereas colored feathers contain pigment.