Wednesday, August 16, 2006

White-tailed Ptarmigan

High on my list of birds to see in Colorado is a secretive, cryptic denizen of the alpine tundra known as the White-tailed Ptarmigan. The White-tailed Ptarmigan can be found in Rocky Mountain National Park and other alpine areas of Colorado. It's by no means common and I'll consider myself lucky to see one. Their breeding plumage is a mix of browns and grays with the male having black barring on its chest. The male also sports a keen red comb above its eyes. The female has a comb too, but it's less visible.

In the winter, the birds become pure white and can only be seen by the "black of their eyes"! I'd love to see one in winter even though it probably involves freezing off parts of my body.

These Ptarmigans eat similar food to most other grouses including buds, stems, and seeds. In summer, they also eat insects, leaves, and fruits. They nest in a scrape on the ground and typically lay 2-8 eggs. The young leave the nest in 6-12 hours after hatching!

Bill Schmoker has some amazing photos of White-tailed Ptarmigans (and many other wonderful photos).

Hopefully, I'll be lucky enough to run into one of these little guys. Wish us luck!

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