Birds – White-tailed Ptarmigan

The smallest, as well as one of the handsomest and most distinct, species is the White-tailed Ptarmigan (L. leucurus) of the Alpine summits of the Rocky Mountains from Alaska to New Mexico and west to the higher mountains of Oregon and Washington. It is only twelve or thirteen inches in length and may otherwise be known by the plumage being white throughout, including all the feathers of the tail. According to Major Bendire, “It is a resident and breeds wherever found, rarely leaving the mountain summits, even during the severest winter weather, and then only descending 2000 or 3000 feet at most, seldom being found at a lower altitude than 8000 or 9000 feet at any time.” This altitude usually takes them high above the timber line, and here, where the wind is often blowing with such tremendous sweep that it is difficult for a man to stand against it, they may be found crouching behind a small stone or other shelter, and always with the head toward the wind. They associate usually in small parties and if disturbed all take wing at once, resembling a flock of white Pigeons. They are usually rather tame and when closely approached run about nervously with the tail elevated and looking, as Mr. Grinnell says, “very much like a white Fan-tailed Pigeon.” The nest, usually begun sometime in June, is a slight depression among the rocky debris of steep hillsides, and although in perfectly exposed situations, the mottled plumage of the female at this season is so very like the surrounding rocks and ground that she is effectually concealed. The female sits so closely that she may almost be trodden upon before betraying her presence, and may even be stroked and lifted from the nest without more protest than a sitting hen. The eggs are usually from seven to nine in number and are creamy or reddish buff with few markings. The female only appears to per-form the duty of incubation, and when the chicks are hatched cares for them with great solicitude. These birds feed largely on buds, with such seeds and berries as they can secure.