pTARMIGAN IN TREE
willow ptarmigan.  Photograph by Michael John Brown Copyright
willow ptarmigan.  Photograph by Michael John Brown Copyright
willow ptarmigan.  Photograph by Michael John Brown Copyright

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Winter Ptarmigan

of the Northwest Territories

Photographs by Michael John Brown

Winter willow ptarmigan (Lagopus lagopus) stay year round in the Arctic, feeding on the shoots of plants and willows. Often they leave the wilds to frequent roadside corridors as well as snow covered properties in remote communities, including Yellowknife, Northwest Territories.

During winter, the hen-like birds have snow white body plumage, which is black at the tip of the wings and tail. Toward the middle of spring they develop dark splotches on the neck and head and begin taking on a mottled appearance, looking very much like partridge species' found in more southern climates.

By summer, the transformation is complete and the ptarmigan are typically brown-white on the top of the wings and head. They change camouflage again in fall and by late autumn are again white, blending in nicely with the pristine white snow cap of their habitat.

Ptarmigan are nicely curved birds, shaped something like a toboggan in the front, which helps them glide over the snow, propelled by large, snowshoe-like feet that are covered in feathers. Happy-go-lucky creatures with a goofy appearance, during the day they gather on residential properties in groups of 10 and more, leaving dotted line patterns in the snow. And they have a trusting if not dim witted nature, allowing you to approach with camera in hand.

In the Yellowknife area they typically leave town by mid-April, flying north, hopefully to return again in the fall.

Northwest Territories, Canada

willow ptarmigan.  Photograph by Michael John Brown Copyright
willow ptarmigan.  Photograph by Michael John Brown Copyright
willow ptarmigan.  Photograph by Michael John Brown Copyright
willow ptarmigan.  Photograph by Michael John Brown Copyright