In the Rockies
Ptarmigan are stunning grouse well suited for colder climates, and can often be found happily hopping rock to rock in Canada and other colder regions. While ptarmigan can be found all over Canada, the question is raised: are there any ptarmigan in the US, and furthermore, are there ptarmigan in Colorado? The answer is yes! While there are three types of ptarmigan (rock, willow, and white-tailed), only the white-tailed variety can be found in the US, with large populations living in the rocky mountains.1
The white-tailed ptarmigan poses a unique challenge for hunters and bird watchers alike. It’s a bit harder to spot than other ptarmigan species, and finding one in the wild means venturing out into the rockies as these birds live far from any civilized areas. Interestingly, the white-tailed ptarmigan has been making its appearance in other western states, such as California and Oregon, and according to the Audubon Society, even as far south as New Mexico. As far as the willow and rock ptarmigans are concerned, their populations are strictly limited to Canada, Alaska, and further towards the arctic circle.1
The white-tailed ptarmigan is incredibly adapted to snow and high elevations. It’s often described as having “snow shoes,” its feet adapted to walk effortlessly on snow. The Cornell Lab of Ornithology even notes that white-tailed ptarmigan aren’t fans of warm weather, and have been observed to roll around in snow in order to lower their body temperature. If you want to spot one of these unique birds, you’ll have to keep your eye out along the edges of snowbanks, in crevices, and shrubs. Only the non-breeding adult is the picturesque, solid white: during mating season, you’ll spot darker brown plumage similar to other ptarmigan2. If you’ve been wondering “Are there ptarmigan in Colorado??” The answer is yes–if you know where to look!