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Willow Ptarmigan Lagopus lagopus


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Willow Ptarmigan, summer plumage
credit: Derek Ramsey /CCSA

© Lang Elliot/ (audio)

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Family: Phasianidae, Pheasants and Grouse view all from this family

Description ADULT MALE In winter is pure white, except for black tail, bill, and eye; hint of red eye wattle is sometimes seen. Acquires summer plumage through gradual spring molt; finally appears mainly reddish brown, but with white wings and belly. Note red wattle above each eye. ADULT FEMALE Has paler, more buffy red and marbled plumage than male; well camouflaged when nesting. JUVENILE Resembles summer female.

Dimensions Length: 15-17" (38-43 cm)

Habitat Usually common, but numbers fluctuate. Favors willow scrub (diet includes shoots and buds). Mainly sedentary, but some move south in winter.

Observation Tips Easiest to see in spring.

Range Western Canada, Eastern Canada, Alaska

Voice Call is a distinctive, nasal go-back, go-back....

Discussion Similar to Rock Ptarmigan, but larger. Both have white wings, but black tail feathers are often concealed by white upper tail coverts. Willow's larger bill is not easy to discern, but difference in calls is more obvious. In summer, Willow has reddish plumage tone overall (gray-buff in Rock). Separation in winter is problematic: pure white plumage including lores, plus dark eye and bill is common to both sexes of Willow, and to female Rock. If alarmed takes flight explosively: bouts of rapid wingbeats are interspersed with long glides on bowed wings.