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In winter, male-and some female-Rock Ptarmigans sport a black stripe that extends through the eye to the bill (as if they had put on charcoal goggles to prevent snow blindness)
Listen to the sound of Ptarmigan
Copyright remark: Most sounds derived from xeno-canto
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The winter daily schedule consists of feeding by day and roosting under shrubs or in snow burrows at night and during extreme weather. The quality and depth of snow are important factors influencing survival. Snow depth determines what food will be available. Along with snow hardness, it also determines whether suitable roosting conditions exist to protect the ptarmigans from cold winds and how effectively such predators as foxes, lynx, wolves, and martens can pursue the birds.
At the beginning of incubation, or keeping the eggs warm until they hatch, male ptarmigans guard their females. However they gradually lose interest, leaving their mates to complete incubation and rear the brood on their own.
Although all chicks usually hatch within a few hours, hatching may take as long as a day. During this time, the hen keeps the brood warm, but the youngsters emerge from under her breast for short periods. Then, while making low vocalizations, the hen leads the chicks, each weighing about 15 g, from the nest. At first the family hunts for food in the vicinity of the nest, but it then ranges over an increasingly large area and can travel considerable distances in search of suitable food.
Chicks need a high-protein diet for rapid growth. After eating the yolk sac from which they hatched, they begin to pick up a variety of objects, especially caterpillar, other invertebrates, flowers, and seeds.
Winter is the critical time, as the choice and quantity of food are reduced to the few plants found above the snow or in windswept places. Ptarmigans eat the seeds, buds, and twigs of low willows, alders, and dwarf birches.Rock Ptarmigans are adept at scratching in shallow snow to reach buried vegetation such as the ground-hugging purple saxifrage. They also take advantage of feeding craters made by caribou, muskoxen, and arctic hares. White-tailed Ptarmigans supplement their diet with the needles and buds of spruces, pines, and firs.
This grouse has a discontinuous distribution in arctic, boreal and alpine regions of North America and Eurasia. It lives at greater altitude or latitude than the Red Grouse (Lagopus lagopus) mainly above the tree line. The races helveticus of the Alps and pyrenaicus of the Pyrenees are adversely affected by degradation of their habitat and by disturbance from tourism development
Longer movements occur in some arctic populations. Spitsbergen population makes inter-island movements in some years. In Iceland, endemic race islandorum nomadic in winter, moving about freely under influence of snow cover and food availability, with ringing recoveries up to 275 km.