Alaska Birds: Willow Ptarmigan

Alaska Marine Highway
Alaska's State Flower is the "Forget-Me-Not. Forget me not flowers are very fragrant in the evening and night time, though there is little or no scent in the daytime. They can be annual or perennial plants. Their seeds are found in small, tulip shaped pods along the stem to the flower.
Willow Ptarmigan are pheasant-like birds that resemble small grouse, weighing from 10.5 ounces to 24 ounces. The willow ptarmigan was designated the official state bird of Alaska in 1955. Willow ptarmigan are found nearly everywhere in Alaska’s high, treeless country -- and sometimes they're also found in the willows and alders near the tree line. At Denali National Park, bus passengers sometimes see them along the road, often in a fox's mouth.

There are three kinds of ptarmigan and all can be found in Alaska - the willow ptarmigan and rock ptarmigan (which are also found in Scandinavia, Russia, and northern Eurasia), and white-tailed ptarmigan (found only in North America). The famous red grouse of Scotland is a race of the willow ptarmigan. The Rock and Willow Ptarmigans look almost alike, since they have the same coloring and sport similar sizes. The Willow Ptarmigan have a larger bill and, if you can get this close, the Rock Ptarmigan appear to have black eyeliner.

Ptarmigan are arctic grouse. The willow ptarmigan (Lagopus lagopus) changes color from light brown in summer to snow white in winter for effective camouflage from predators. Another distinctive feature is its feathered toes. Willow ptarmigan eat willow buds, willow twigs, and a little birch. When the snow melts, their fare includes insects, overwintered berries, new leaves and flowers.

Ptarmigan are sociable in winter and usually feed and roost in the snow close together. In spring flocks of several thousand sometimes appear en route to their breeding grounds. These huge flocks rapidly disperse as summer areas are reached and cocks demand elbow room for their share of the tundra.

The young birds do not acquire their full summer plumage before they are two years old. The males have a large red comb over their eyes. The females also have a red comb, but it is distinctly small. Some females also have a reddish-brown body with occasionally black or white spots embedded in the color, which is determined by the molt stage she is in. The males are very territorial, especially when winter is over. It is not uncommon for male ptarmigan to fight with other males just to keep them off their territory by having flying chases and noise attacks, which is really meant for domination.

The Willow Ptarmigan move around in the winter. Wherever there is food is where the ptarmigan will nest. This could be for a few days or for the entire migration period. Usually, you’ll find that Willow Ptarmigans don’t shift more than 150 miles from their normal home in the summer.

The actual number of Willow Ptarmigan vary year over year. The Ptarmigan in Ireland usually grow in large numbers about every 10 years or so, but in Alaska, it isn’t known why the Willow Ptarmigan are low in numbers one year and in huge abundance the next year or two. There are a number of theories on this, but nothing proven. Experts know that if there is a small amount of offspring born one year, then over the next couple of years, the population of the Willow Ptarmigan is light. Conversely, the more chicks that are born, the better the numbers the next couple of years because those same ptarmigan will mature into breeding Willows within the year.

The flight of the Willow Ptarmigan resembles that of the Red Grouse of Scotland, being regular, swift, and on occasion protracted to a very great distance. They have no whirring sound of their wings, even when put up by sudden surprise. These birds can be extremely shy, and may fly from one hill to another often at a great distance. If pursued, Willow Ptarmigan may be seen standing erect, and boldly watching until prey get close.  In rising from the ground, they utter a loud and quickly repeated chuck, which is continued for eight or ten yards.


Willow Ptarmigan is Alaska state bird

Willow Ptarmigan also called willow grouse are found in Alaska

Alaska Birds:

Alaska contains over 492 naturally occurring species of birds in 64 families and 20 orders

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