Willow ptarmigan checks out the view from atop a mossy rock

June 19, 2014, 1 p.m.
willow ptarmigan

Meet the willow ptarmigan, Alaska's state bird

This beautiful bird is a common species on the arctic tundra. While it has a mottled brown color over its head, chest and back in summer, it turns completely white in winter, except for its black eyes, bill, outer tail and a signature red comb over each eye. Beyond changing color to match the snow, the willow ptarmigan has a couple other strategies to keep it save in its snowy habitat. Its feet are covered with feathers which act as a sort of snowshoe. And when it is ready to settle down for the night, it will fly to a snowbank rather than walk. This ensures it leaves no footprints that a predator might use to track it. It is a widespread species that can be found across the northern latitudes of North America as well as parts of northern Asia and Europe.

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