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Beautiful Birds: Willow Ptarmigan

This beautiful bird is pretty popular...

Image from the National Audubon Society

Beautiful birds is a segment we're doing to honor the brilliant birds all around us. Today we are learning about the Willow Ptarmigan (Lagopus lagopus), so let's get started!

The Willow Ptarmigan is actually Alaska's state bird, and they are found in the North of North America, more common in Canada than the United States. In the family of pheasants and grouse, this bird changes color with the seasons. That means that in the winter, the bird's plumage changes from brownish to white to blend in with the snow.

These birds are almost vegetarian, but the young birds prefer insects and spiders to the buds, leaves, and twigs that their parents munch on. Besides eating just that, they also eat berries, such as blueberry and crowberry (just another berry).

The word ptarmigan is from the Scottish Gaelic word “tàrmachan," what people in the northern Brittish Isles used to call them. The word lagopus, both their genus and species name, means "hare-footed" in Greek, a reference to their feet coated in feathers. But like everything else, there's a reason for their feet to be covered in feathers: to act as snowshoes! These feathers assist the bird in helping them walk through the snow in winter.

The nest is a small dent in the ground lined with moss, leaves, feathers, and stuff like that. The eggs are brownish with black spots, and when the chicks hatch, they leave with the female ptarmigan within a few hours. Until late summer, they'll stay with their mother. Then, they leave.

Here's a picture of a Willow Ptarmigan in summer:

Image from eBird

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