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White-tailed Ptarmigan

Lagopus leucura ORDER: GALLIFORMES FAMILY: PHASIANIDAE

IUCN Conservation Status: Least Concern

The smallest grouse in North America, the White-tailed Ptarmigan inhabits alpine regions from Alaska to New Mexico. It has numerous adaptations to its severe habitat, including feathered toes, highly cryptic plumage, and an energy-conserving daily regime.

At a GlanceHelp

Measurements
Both Sexes
Length
11.8–12.2 in
30–31 cm
Weight
11.6–16.9 oz
330–480 g
Other Names
  • Lagopède à queue blanche (French)

Cool Facts

  • The White-tailed Ptarmigan leads a very sedentary lifestyle in winter, conserving precious energy by avoiding flight and often roosting in snow banks.
  • In winter, the White-tailed Ptarmigan defecates an average of 49 times overnight.
  • Warm weather may stress the White-tailed Ptarmigan. It can be seen bathing in snow when the temperature is higher than 21° C (70° F).

Habitat


Mountains

Alpine areas at or above tree line. Rocky areas, krummholz, snowfields, meadows.

Food


Plants

Buds, stems, and seeds; in summer, also insects, leaves, fruits, and flowers.

Nesting

Nesting Facts
Clutch Size
2–8 eggs
Egg Description
Light cinnamon, showing dark spots toward the time of hatching.
Condition at Hatching
Completely covered with dense down, eyes open. Leave nest within six to 12 hours after the last egg hatches.
Nest Description

A scrape on the ground, with some vegetation pulled by the female around her body to form a rim.

Nest Placement

Ground

Behavior


Ground Forager

Male bows and struts before female with combs flared and tail fanned out. Walks on ground, nipping at vegetation. Consumes grit to aid in processing of plant matter.

Conservation

status via IUCN

Least Concern

White-tailed Ptarmigan is not on the 2014 State of the Birds Watch List. Partners in Flight estimates a global breeding population of 2 million birds, with 28% living in the U.S., and 73% in Canada. The species rates an 11 out of 20 on the Continental Concern Score. Ptarmigans have experienced some disturbances, including overgrazing by livestock and development of ski areas, that may affect distribution locally. Management of hunting bag limits, seasonal closure and rerouting of roads, and limitations on livestock grazing help to stabilize White-tailed Ptarmigan populations.

Credits

  • Braun, C. E., K. Martin, and L. A. Robb. 1993. White-tailed Ptarmigan (Lagopus leucurus). In The Birds of North America, No. 68 (A. Poole and F. Gill, eds.). The Academy of Natural Sciences, Philadelphia, and The American Ornithologists' Union, Washington, D.C.
  • North American Bird Conservation Initiative, U.S. Committee. 2014. State of the Birds 2014 Report. U.S. Department of Interior, Washington, DC.
  • Partners in Flight. 2012. Species assessment database

Range Map Help

White-tailed Ptarmigan Range Map
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