White-tailed Ptarmigans

White-tailed Ptarmigan, NPS  photoWhite-tailed Ptarmigan, NPS photoWhite-tailed Ptarmigan, Mdf photo

White-tailed ptarmigan (Lagopus leucurus) are the only bird species to remain in the alpine during winter. Feathers on their legs and feet help with conserving body heat, while nostril feathers warm inhaled air before it enters the bird’s body. Camouflage is an important part of their defense as their brown feathers change to white during the winter months. The species ranges from Alaska and western Canada to northern New Mexico.

Study into these birds is directed at understanding their adaptability to climate and habitat changes. Early results indicate that white-tailed ptarmigan are responding to heat stress by climbing to higher elevations.