We use cookies to offer the best possible user experience on our website. We also use third-party cookies, to deliver personalised advertisement messages. By using our website you agree, that cookies can be saved on your device. Further information on the cookies used and on how to disable them can be found here.

The ptarmigan

Lagopus mutus

This member of the Tetraonidae Family is a biological relict of the ice ages that affected the greater part of Europe during the Quaternary. Today, in the Southern and Central part of the old continent, the ptarmigan is only found in the Alps. It prefers cold areas, generally at high altitudes, where it chooses snow-covered environments. In the Alps, it occupies altitudes between 2000m and 3000m. Its favourite habitats are sheltered snow valleys, moraines and alpine grassland with a short and discontinuous vegetation cover. The bird’s diet largely depends on the habitat and consists of buds, shoots, leaves and berries, varying, in any case, according to the season and the prevailing snow cover.
During the mating season, couples will form: when it thaws, the males become territorial and in the spring, courtship displays may be observed and you can here the male’s “song”. The female lays six to eight eggs that will be incubated for about three weeks. After the young have hatched, the male will usually return to higher altitudes to join up with other males, whereas the female remains with her offspring, often well into the autumn, when groups consisting of many families are formed, which may consist of up to eighty individuals.
The ptarmigan
The ptarmigan


Due to the ptarmigan’s camouflage colouring, it is very difficult to observe. In the summer, its colour is similar to that of the ground and the rocks, whereas in the winter, it is almost completely white. This is an advantage, of which the bird seems to be aware: in dangerous situations, it will often decide to take off only at the very last moment. During the cold season, the ptarmigan is completely white, with the exception of a black tail, which, however, is virtually invisible when the bird is sitting down, as the black parts are hidden by covering feathers. The summer plumage is brown, with grey speckles in the upper parts, and single white feathers; the wings and belly remain white. The feet, covered in white feathers that become denser during the winter, are particularly interesting. There are some differences between the sexes: males have a black (in autumn and winter) or dark brown band (in the summer and up to mid-September), reaching from the beak across the eyes, and reddish caruncles on very well-developed eyebrows. Females have light-brown feathers between eyes and nose that turn white in the winter; the caruncle is not very pronounced. Young individuals have external wing-quills that are pointed and slightly blackish.
 Back to list