Alaska State Bird

Willow Ptarmigan

Alaska State Bird: Willow Ptarmigan Tyrannus Forficatus

Alaska State Bird Description:

  • Size: 14 to 17 inches (35 - 44 cm)
  • Wingspan: 24 to 26 inches (60 - 65 cm)
  • Weight: 15.25 to 28.5 ounces (430- 810 g)

The Willow Ptarmigan is a small grouse. It is heavy-bodied with a moderately short tail that is rounded and black. It has a red comb over its eyes which is larger in the spring and summer. The bill is small and dark and its legs and feet are feathered.

In the spring and summer it has rusty brown feathers on its back, neck and head mixed with white feathers on its wings and stomach. In the winter, it is all white except for a few black feathers on its tail.

Habitat:

The Willow Ptarmigan lives in open tundra. It prefers areas heavily vegetated with grasses, mosses, herbs, and shrubs including thickets with alder and willow trees.

Range:

The Willow Ptarmigan's range spreads across Alaska into Labrador and south to central British Columbia, northern Ontario, and central Quebec.

Diet:

The Willow Ptarmigan eats flowers, leaves, plant shoots, berries, seeds and insects. In the winter it will eat twigs and buds from willows and alders.

Nesting:

The female builds the nest in a location that is sheltered by rocks, plants or logs. It is built on the ground in a hollowed out area that is lined with feathers and grass. The male guards the nesting area while the female incubates the eggs.

The clutch contains 4 to 14 eggs and the incubation period lasts about three weeks.

A Few Things You Probably Didn't Know About the Alaska State Bird:

  • The Willow Ptarmigan will often fly into snow banks to sleep. By flying into the banks, they don't leave any tracks for predators to follow.
  • The feathers on its legs and feet help protect it from the cold and snow.
  • The female Willow Ptarmigan molts directly from winter white to summer brown. The males actually display a transitional plumage  showing a gradual change from white to chestnut brown.

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