- ORDER: Galliformes
- FAMILY: Phasianidae
The hardy Rock Ptarmigan nests as far north as there is land in the world. This chunky grouse wears two kinds of camouflage: it’s nearly all-white in the snowy winter and mottled brown in the summer. Male Rock Ptarmigan stay white until they’ve finished courting females, and then intentionally dirty their plumage to hide from predators until they have molted into a safer (but less dashing) brown plumage. Their feathered feet help them to walk on deep snow and to dig snow burrows and tunnels for refuge from severe cold.More ID Info
Find This Bird
Look for Rock Ptarmigan in rocky, dry areas of tundra, typically at least 7–10 miles away from towns. They are fairly common and, until the June molt, white males stand out against the tundra from a very long way away. The males’ vocalizations also make them an easy bird to find in spring.
- Lagópodo Alpino (Spanish)
- Lagopède alpin (French)
- Cool Facts
- The displays of Rock Ptarmigan and Willow Ptarmigan are similar, and these species often nest very near one another. Thus, it is not surprising that there are occasional records of suspected hybrids. More surprisingly, Rock Ptarmigan in the Old World have hybridized with the very different Black Grouse and Hazel Grouse.
- The male Rock Ptarmigan takes longer than the female to change from its white winter plumage into brown summer garb. During courtship the male is a conspicuous white patch on the brown tundra, visible for hundreds of yards. The female sitting on the eggs, however, is so well camouflaged that she is difficult to see from even 6 feet away.