White-tailed Ptarmigan (Lagopus leucura)

White-tailed Ptarmigan

[order] GALLIFORMES | [family] Phasianidae | [latin] Lagopus leucura | [UK] White-tailed Ptarmigan | [FR] Lagopede a queue blanche | [DE] Weissschwanz-Schneehuhn | [ES] Lagopodo Coliblanco | [NL] Witstaartsneeuwhoen


Genus Species subspecies Breeding Range Breeding Range 2 Non Breeding Range
Lagopus leucura NA w, nw
Lagopus leucura altipetens Rocky Mts. from Montana to New Mexico (USA)
Lagopus leucura leucura w Canada
Lagopus leucura peninsularis sc Alaska, Yukon
Lagopus leucura rainierensis c and s Washington (USA)
Lagopus leucura saxatilis Vancouver I. (Canada)

Physical charateristics

The only ptarmigan normally found south of Canada. Note the white tail.
In summer, this ptarmigan is brown, with a white belly and white wings and tail. In winter, it is pure white except for the black eyes and bill. The other two ptarmigans are larger and have black tails.

Listen to the sound of White-tailed Ptarmigan

[audio:http://www.aviflevoland.nl/sounddb/W/White-tailed Ptarmigan.mp3]

Copyright remark: Most sounds derived from xeno-canto

wingspan min.: 41 cm wingspan max.: 43 cm
size min.: 30 cm size max.: 33 cm
incubation min.: 22 days incubation max.: 24 days
fledging min.: 25 days fledging max.: 28 days
broods: 1   eggs min.: 3  
      eggs max.: 9  


North America : West, Northwest


Rocky alpine tundra; mountains above timberline. Summer:
Above timberline, rocky slopes with low vegetation (a few inches tall), or damp alpine meadows near streams or snowfields. Sometimes in stunted growth just below timberline. Elevations from under 4,000′ in Alaska to almost 14,000′ in Colorado.
Winter: Often moves slightly lower, to areas where willows and other plants extend above snow.


For breeding season, males and females defend individual territories. In courtship display, male raises red combs above eyes, spreads tail, struts and bows. Male usually remains with female until sometime during incubation.
Nest: Site is on ground, usually in rocky area, matted willow thicket, or sedge meadow. Nest (built by female) is shallow depression lined with plant material, with a few feathers added.
Eggs: 2-8, usually about 5. Pale cinnamon, spotted with dark brown. Incubation is by female only, 22-26 days.
Downy chicks leave nest a few hours after hatching. Female tends young and leads them to food, but young feed themselves. If danger threatens brood, female puts on distraction display, running in zigzags with wings dragging. Young can fly at 10-
12 days, reach full size at 12-14 weeks. Brood gradually breaks up in fall, young birds joining winter flocks.

Feeding habits

Mostly buds, leaves, twigs, and seeds.
Adults are almost entirely vegetarian, feeding on all parts of low alpine plants, especially buds, twigs, and leaves of willows. Also favors birch, alder, sedges, crowberry, and others. Very young chicks eat mostly insects at first, soon switching to mor
e plants. Regularly swallows grit to aid digestion of rough plant material.
Behavior: Forages while walking, nipping off pieces of plants with bill. Feeds in flocks at most times of year (from late summer through winter).


This species has an extremely large range, and hence does not approach the thresholds for Vulnerable under the range size criterion (Extent of Occurrence <20,000 km2 combined with a declining or fluctuating range size, habitat extent/quality, or population size and a small number of locations or severe fragmentation). Despite the fact that the population trend appears to be decreasing, the decline is not believed to be sufficiently rapid to approach the thresholds for Vulnerable under the population trend criterion (>30% decline over ten years or three generations). The population size is extremely large, and hence does not approach the thresholds for Vulnerable under the population size criterion (<10,000 mature individuals with a continuing decline estimated to be >10% in ten years or three generations, or with a specified population structure). For these reasons the species is evaluated as Least Concern.
White-tailed Ptarmigan status Least Concern


Western North America. Migration:
Most birds move to slightly lower elevation in winter, with some traveling as much as 14 miles from summer to winter range. Females tend to move farther than males.

Distribution map

White-tailed Ptarmigan distribution range map

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