The Arctic grouse famed for its winter plumage
What you need to know about the Ptarmigan
Our Expert Says… "These cold-climate specialists are perfectly happy in low temperatures - their leg feathers reach all the way down their legs helping to keep them warm. They can be quite difficult to spot when their plumage is in its "mottled" state, but if we do spot them they will usually allow us to get quite close as they are not shy birds."
The rock ptarmigan (pronounced taar-muh-gn) is a member of the grouse family. In the UK and Canada, the “rock” is usually dropped from the name. The unusual name comes from the Scottish Gaelic word tarmachan (meaning “the croaker”). The silent “p” was added in the 1600s by a Scottish naturalist who was inspired by ancient greek!
Rock ptarmigans are around 35cm (14”) long with a wingspan of about 60cm (2ft). The species molts into a winter camouflage in the fall, with all-white feathers except for the tip of the tail which is black. It then molts again in spring into its brown summer plumage.
A non-migratory species, the rock ptarmigan can be found on rocky mountains and tundra throughout much of arctic and subarctic Europe, Eurasia, and North America, including on Greenland.
Young ptarmigans feed on insects, but adult birds eat mainly birch and willow buds in season and the seeds, leaves, and berries of other plants when the buds aren’t available. The population is thought to be stable, particularly as they tend to inhabit remote areas. They have few predators but are known to be a favorite prey of Golden Eagles.