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Ptarmigan in Winter

Look who's wearing snowshoes!

Both the Willow Ptarmigan and these White-tailed Ptarmigan, feathered mostly brown in summer, are utterly transfigured by an autumn molt. As snow begins to mantle their world, both species, now all white, blend in superbly. But the ptarmigan pulls another trick. It adds dense white feathering on both the tops and bottoms of its feet. And its claws grow longer. The bird grows snowshoes!

Full Transcript

Ptarmigan in Winter – Don’t Forget your Snowshoes

Written by Bob Sundstrom

This is BirdNote! [A howling winter wind]

When winter turns the world white, some animals of the northern latitudes follow suit. Call it a seasonal change of camouflage. Best known is the ermine, a small weasel whose fur changes from brown to snow-white in winter. [A winter wind]

A few birds also change color. One such is the Willow Ptarmigan, a chicken-sized bird of the northern tundra known for its giddy voice. [Male Willow Ptarmigan call]

The Willow Ptarmigan, feathered mostly brown in summer, is utterly transfigured by an autumn molt. [Male Willow Ptarmigan call] As snow begins to mantle its world, the newly white-feathered ptarmigan blends in superbly. Where a covey of ptarmigan sit with feathers fluffed up against the cold, they resemble nothing so much as a row of oversized snowballs. Only a flick of their black tail-feathers gives them away. [Male Willow Ptarmigan call]

The ptarmigan pulls yet another winter trick. It adds dense feathering – white, of course – on both the tops and bottoms of its feet. And its claws grow longer. The winter ptarmigan actually quadruples the bearing surface of its feet. Which is to say… the bird grows snowshoes. Well, it’s no wonder why the ptarmigan likes a good laugh. [Willow Ptarmigan male call]

Take a good look at the chameleon bird, the ptarmigan, on our website, I’m Mary McCann.


Call of the Willow Ptarmigan provided by The Macaulay Library at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Ithaca, New York. Recorded by G.A. Keller.
Producer: John Kessler
Executive Producer: Chris Peterson
© 2015 Tune In to    January 2015   Narrator: Mary McCann

ID# 010807WIPT2KPLU        ptarmigan-01b 

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