7 Can’t Miss Facts About White Tailed Ptarmigan

white tailed ptarmigan

A white tailed ptarmigan with it’s summer plumage. Photo via Flickr.

The white tailed ptarmigan is the only bird that lives in the alpine zone of the Rocky Mountains.  Here are 7 things I bet you didn’t know about this bird.

In a couple of my older posts I’ve talked about the fact that I love the area above tree-line in the Rockies.  The alpine zone is home to many special animals, such as the marmot and pika.  Well, the white tailed ptarmigan is a bird that lives in this are at the tops of mountains.  If you live in Canada then you are probably more familiar with this bird than if you live in the US where it is not as common.

white tailed ptarmigan

Photo via Flckr.

7 Can’t Miss Facts About The White Tailed Ptarmigan

These birds live mainly in the alpine zone of the Canadian Rockies.  They can sometimes be seen in the Rockies in the US, but they are not common.  About 3/4 of the population lives in the Canadian Rockies.  Unfortunately, I can’t say that I’ve seen them many times.

This is the only bird in North America that lives exclusively in the alpine or subalpine zone year round!

white tailed ptarmigan

They are all white in winter, making them hard to see. Photo via Flickr.

These birds molt 3 times a year in order to blend in with their surroundings.  During winter they turn completely white, including growing white feathers over their feet.  This helps camouflage them and makes it almost impossible to see them in the snow.

The weather can be incredibly harsh where they live at the tops of mountains.  During winter they survive the worst storms by digging snow burrows to hide out in.  These snow burrows stay close to freezing and help the birds survive the extremely cold, harsh weather of winter in the Rockies.

white tailed ptarmigan

They can be seen on the ground foraging for food. Photo via Flickr.

White tailed ptarmigans are herbivores.  They mainly eat the leaves, twigs, berries, and flowers of the vegetation of the alpine zone.

This is a ground dwelling bird, which means that it is mainly found waking around on the ground.  Like other ground birds, it can fly, but it does so rarely.

The white tailed ptarmigan is so adapted to living in cold weather that it can’t stand being too hot.  If it gets too warm it needs to cool itself off and may do so by taking a ‘snow bath’ if the temperature gets above 70 degrees F.