© John Hill/Wikimedia Commons (CC 2.0)

White-tailed Ptarmigan

White-tailed Ptarmigan
Lagopus leucura
Upland Ground Birds | Family: Pheasants and Grouse, Phasianidae

An estimated 51% of the species' North American population breeds within the Boreal Forest.



This mountain-dwelling ptarmigan engages in short migrations, moving down to the edge of the forest in the fall and back onto the alpine tundra in spring. The two sexes often winter separately, with females gathering in larger flocks than males.


12-13" (30-33 cm). The smallest of the ptarmigans, the only one with an all-white tail, and the only one found in alpine tundra of the western United States. In winter, pure white except for black bill and eyes. In summer, mottled and barred with brown on head, breast, and back, with white wings, belly, and tail. Red comb above eye (larger in spring males).


High-pitched "creaking" notes and soft low clucks.


6-8 buff eggs, faintly spotted with brown, in a hollow sparsely lined with grass, leaves, and feathers.


Alpine meadows and open rocky areas above timberline.


Resident in Rocky Mountains from Alaska south to New Mexico, and coastal ranges south to Washington; introduced in Sierra Nevada of California.