Logo of nature.ca - Canadian Museum of Nature.
Logo of Natural History Notebooks.
 
Button: Home. Button: Resources. Button: Notebooks A-Z.
Button: Français.
Home > Birds > Rock Ptarmigan Next
Text: Birds.
Rock Ptarmigan
Photo: Rock Ptarmigan, Lagopus muta.
Rock Ptarmigan, Lagopus muta
More Images »

Where are they found? AsiaEuropeGreenlandNorth America

Map of the world.


The Rock Ptarmigan is Nunavut's official bird. It is truly a bird of the Arctic because, unlike most other Arctic birds, it remains there year-round.

The Rock Ptarmigan is about 27 to 40 cm (11 to 16 in.) long. The end of its tail is square, and it has a small black bill. Unusually, this species has three seasonal plumages—most birds have only two: the Rock Ptarmigan's feathers moult and change colour for summer, autumn and winter. The colours help the birds blend into their surroundings, thereby helping them keep safe from predators.

During the breeding season in spring, females change to the summer plumage that has a barred pattern of brown, black and gold. Males stay white longer, but by late summer they look similar to the females.

As autumn approaches, males and females turn greyer. They barely complete this moult before they begin to change for winter.

In winter, both the males and the females are white, except for black feathers in the tail that are visible when the tail feathers are spread. Males, and some females, also have a black stripe that extends from behind each eye to the bill. The stripe apparently reduces glare in the eyes.

Both males and females have a red comb above their eyes, but it is barely visible in females. The comb is always quite visible in males, and it becomes especially evident when they are courting or defending their territory because it engorges with blood, and so grows (temporarily) larger and more prominent.

Rock Ptarmigans have feathers covering their legs and feet that help them survive the Arctic climate. Not only do these feathers help keep them warm in winter, but they help the birds walk on top of the snow because the feather-widened feet act like snowshoes, distributing the bird's weight over a larger area.

Rock Ptarmigans can be found in all the countries that circle the North Pole, including northern North America, Asia, Europe, Iceland and Greenland, and also in mountainous parts of southern Europe.


More Images
Photo: Rock Ptarmigan, Lagopus muta. Photo: Rock Ptarmigan, Lagopus muta. Photo: Rock Ptarmigan, Lagopus muta. Photo: Rock Ptarmigan, Lagopus muta. Photo: Rock Ptarmigan, Lagopus muta. Photo: Rock Ptarmigan, Lagopus muta. Photo: Rock Ptarmigan, Lagopus muta. Photo: Rock Ptarmigan, Lagopus muta. Photo: Rock Ptarmigan, Lagopus muta. Photo: Rock Ptarmigan, Lagopus muta.


Looking for photos?

The Canadian Museum of Nature has thousands of unique images reflecting the diversity of the natural world—including the photos and illustrations here in our Natural History NotebooksContact us to learn more!


To cite this page for personal use:
“Rock Ptarmigan”. [Online]. Natural History Notebooks. Canadian Museum of Nature.
Last updated (Web site consulted

Previous
Button: Mammals. Photo: Lion (Panthera leo). Button: Birds. Photo: Golden Eagle (Aquila chrysaetos).
Button: Fish. Photo: Brown trout (Salmo trutta). Button: Reptiles. Photo: Komodo dragon (Varanus komodensis).
Button: Amphibians. Photo: Bullfrog (Lithobates catesbeiana). Button: Invertebrates. Photo: House fly (Musca domestica).
Button: Dinosaurs. Illustration: Tyrannosaurus rex. Archive slide: S71-116. Button: Prehistoric. Illustration: Muskox (Ovibos moschatus).
Button: Navigate the World. Illustration: Map of the world.
 
Text: Play the games and interactives from our Bird Gallery. Logo: Bird Gallery.

Reproduction Rights    Credits    Explore Nature!    Comments or Questions?

Next Previous Next Previous