Nature Notes

Vol. XI May - 1933 No. 3

Ptarmigan Topics

A strange bird is the ptarmigan. Its chief protection against its enemies being its ability to change the color of its plumage with the season. It is more than interesting at any season of the year. Summer finds them a grey-brown, fall and spring a mottled grey and white and winter clothes them in snow white plumage that is almost invisible to the eye. Their haunts are not generally known here on "The Mountain" in the winter. Occasionally they have been seen on winter trips but such findings have been mere happenstance.

Two weeks ago we made a trip to the snout of the Nisqually Glacier. Snow covered all visible features of the region as we know it in a milder season. Only the steep granite cliffs that flank the narrow valley and the tops of alders that grow in profusion here had escaped the heavy hand of winter. But as we pushed through the sparse tops of these alders we noted a shadow moving slowly across the snow. Shadows don't just happen and a closer inspection proved it to be cast by a ptarmigan, snow white except for its beady eyes and bill, that was almost invisible against the glistening white background. The bird was not overly frightened. The cameras were brought into play and movies and stills were taken as it hopped into the top of an alder and began feeding upon the buds of those trees. Then, finally, it took off and flew to a nearby rock outcropping and disappeared. Close inspection of this outcrop showed that these birds had sought refuge in the space between the rock and the snow that had melted out due to the radiation of warmth absorbed by the granite. Throughout these cliffs there were numerous natural caves and hollows that could readily be used as a haven by these birds. The ptarmigan in summer, spring or fall is interesting, but in winter we believe them more interesting than in any other season in which we have observed them.

Ptarmigan in winter

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