|Conservation status||Goes through population cycles, abundant in some years and scarce in others; generally common over its vast northern range, and mostly remote from the impacts of human disturbance.|
|Family||Pheasants and Grouse|
|Habitat||Tundra, willow scrub, muskeg. Generally found north of timberline, in lower wet tundra with abundant thickets of dwarf willow. Also in brushy openings within northern forest. In mountainous regions, lives near timberline or in open valleys in shrubby willow growth.|
Forages while walking by picking at vegetation, nipping off food with bill.
5-14, usually about 7. Red when first laid, but dry to Blotchy blackish brown with some pale areas. Incubation is by female only, 21-22 days. Young: Downy chicks leave nest with female a few hours after hatching. Female tends young (and broods them while they are small), but young feed themselves. Young capable of short flights at age of 10-12 days, but not full-grown for several weeks; remain with adult female until late summer.
Downy chicks leave nest with female a few hours after hatching. Female tends young (and broods them while they are small), but young feed themselves. Young capable of short flights at age of 10-12 days, but not full-grown for several weeks; remain with adult female until late summer.
Mostly buds, twigs, leaves, and seeds. Adult almost entirely vegetarian, feeding heavily on willow, alder, birch, and other plants, eating the buds, leaves, and twigs. Also eats many berries, such as crowberry and blueberry, and eats some insects. Regularly swallows grit to help with digesting rough plant material. Young chicks feed mostly on insects and spiders at first, soon beginning to eat more plant matter.
In spring, male defends territory by displaying: raises red combs over eyes, throws head back, fans tail, droops wings, and struts about. Makes short flights, circling back to starting point while uttering harsh call. Nest site on ground, sometimes completely in open but often under willow shrub, grass clump, or other shelter. Nest (built by female) a shallow depression lined with grass, leaves, moss, feathers.
Illustration © David Allen Sibley.
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Text © Kenn Kaufman, adapted from
Lives of North American Birds
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Seems to be less migratory than Rock Ptarmigan on average, but sometimes appears well south of the breeding range in winter.
- All Seasons - Common
- All Seasons - Uncommon
- Breeding - Common
- Breeding - Uncommon
- Winter - Common
- Winter - Uncommon
- Migration - Common
- Migration - Uncommon
See a fully interactive migration map for over 450 bird species on the Bird Migration Explorer.Learn more
Songs and CallsIn flight, courting males have a loud, staccato go-back, go-back, go-back, and other guttural calls.
Learn more about this sound collection.
How Climate Change Will Reshape the Range of the Willow Ptarmigan
Audubon’s scientists have used 140 million bird observations and sophisticated climate models to project how climate change will affect this bird’s range in the future.
Zoom in to see how this species’s current range will shift, expand, and contract under increased global temperatures.
Climate threats facing the Willow Ptarmigan
Choose a temperature scenario below to see which threats will affect this species as warming increases. The same climate change-driven threats that put birds at risk will affect other wildlife and people, too.