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Rock ptarmigan

Lagopus muta
Photo by Jan Haugseth (Wikipedia)

Common name:

rock ptarmigan (en); lagópode-branco (pt); lagopède alpin (fr); perdiz nival (es); alpenschneehuhn (de)

Order Galliformes
Family Tetraonidae

This sedentary species breeds across most of Arctic and sub-Arctic Eurasia and North America, including Greenland. There are a few isolated populations in mountainous areas of Scotland, the Pyrenees, the Alps, Bulgaria, the Urals, the Pamir mountains, the Altay mountains and Japan.

The rock ptarmigan in 34-36 cm long and has a wingspan of 54-60 cm.


These birds favour upland habitats. They prefer to live in areas where rocks are interspersed with carpets of moss and lichen, with plenty of dwarf birch and willows.

The rock ptarmigan feeds primarily on birch and willow buds, and catkins when available. It will also eat various seeds, leaves, flowers and berries of various plant species. Developing young also eat insects, spiders and snails.


These birds start laying eggs in May. Males may breed with 2-3 females within their territory. The nest is a shallow scrape lined with vegetation and feathers, where the female lays 5-8 eggs. The eggs are incubated for 21-23 days and the chicks leave the nest within a day of hatching. Each female tends to her young, but they feed for themselves. The chicks are able to fly 10-15 days after hatching and are fully fledged at 20-26 days. They become fully independent after 10-12 weeks.

IUCN status – LC (Least Concern)
This species has an extremely large breeding range and a global population of 8 million individuals. The population has declined locally owing habitat loss, especially due to over-grazing by sheep and mountain tourism, including establishment of ski-resorts. The species is not thought to be vulnerable to over-hunting and not considered threatened at present.
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