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Willow Ptarmigan – State Bird of Alaska

Description: The Willow Ptarmigan is a fairly large, chicken-sized bird of the northern parts of North America. It reaches a length of about 13 inches. In the summer, the male Willow Ptarmigan has a brown head, neck, throat, and breast. Its wings and back may be speckled with varying amounts of white, brown, and black feathers. In addition, the male has red eyebrows. The female is much duller in summer, and has a more mottled appearance. In the winter, both the male and female turn snow white and blend in with the snowy arctic landscape.

Diet: The Willow Ptarmigan eats leaves, buds, shoots, berries, seeds and insects.

Range: The Willow Ptarmigan breeds and winters in the arctic tundra of Alaska, northern Canada, Greenland, Iceland, northern United Kingdom, and northern Scandinavia. In the United Kingdom, the ptarmigan never turns white and is referred to as the Red Grouse. Some ptarmigans may migrate as far south as the Canada-USA border during severe winters.

Habitat: The Willow Ptarmigan is found in tundra with thickets, alpine meadows, and in open forests. They are usually found high in the mountains, where temperatures are cool.

Nesting: Female ptarmigans lay 7-10 eggs in a feather-lined nest on the ground or in a log. The female incubates for about three weeks.

Notes: While males are quite territorial during the breeding season, ptarmigans congregate in large flocks during the winter.

The Willow Ptarmigan is a favorite food source for foxes, goshawks, falcons, eagles, and owls. They are also hunted by humans.