Willow Ptarmigan

Willow Ptarmigan

Lagopus lagopus
The Willow Ptarmigan is a partridge-like grouse with a population that is distributed circumpolarly in northern lowlands. It is also known as a Willow Grouse. Willow Ptarmigan are the most numerous of the three ptarmigan species.

Willow Ptarmigan differ from other grouse species as their toes are covered above and below by stiff feathers, an adaptation suited to their living in their harsh Arctic environment that allows them to walk over deep snow and dig snow burrows to escape the elements.

During the summer Willow Ptarmigan are a mix of browns and reds. As winter approaches the plumage begins to turn white, starting with the body, then moving up to the neck and head until the entire bird is white.

Males and females are about the same size, the adult length ranging betwen 14 and 17 inches with a wingspan from 24 to 26 inches. Willow Ptarmigan weigh from 15 to 29 ounces.

Male Willow Ptarmigan are territorial and set-up and protect their territories against other males in April and May. During September, family groups begin to disperse and gather in flocks prior to winter.

Ptarmigan have highly effective camouflage and they are difficult to pick out against the tundra. They often will not flush when approached, which may be due to the effectiveness of their camouflage. When flushed Willow Ptarmigan fly close to the ground and usually settle back down within 100 yards, which offers hunters more than one opportunity with the same group of birds.

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