Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Ptarmigan

A White-tailed Ptarmigan (Lagopus leucura) munches on Bistwort in the meadows below Handies Peak in the San Juan Mountains
Numerous lakes, trails, coffee shops, and ski runs have been named for this elusive member of the Grouse family that lives exclusively in the alpine zone.  I have only seen it twice in Colorado. Once was on Mt. Sniktau and the other was on the way to Handies Peak. Their elusiveness may have nothing to do with scarcity but more to do with their superb camouflage.

Compare the rock with the plumage of the Ptarmigan.  At a distance, would you be  able to see them?
In winter they are totally white, while in summer they are a specked brown. Once I realized I was in a flock of them,  I started looking around and they were everywhere but I had to squint and stare to see them against the talus. They eat everything from alpine wildflowers to the twigs of willows. The young start out eating insects and then move on to more tastier fare.

This Ptarmigan still has a little be of white on its underbelly.  These birds are supposed to keep their white tails.  Perhaps this is a juvenile. 
Superbly adapted to the cold, this bird had feathers on its feet and around its nostrils to keep both regions warm. Just thinking about it makes me want to get a pair of down booties!






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