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HomeSpitsbergen informationWildlife → Rock ptarmigan

Rock ptarmigan

Anyone hiking in Spitsbergen has a good chance of stumbling over a Rock ptarmigan, that suddenly flies up. The birds rely on their good camouflage and usually fly up noisily at the last moment.

Svalbard Ptarmigan

Male Rock ptarmigan in winter.

Description: The Rock ptarmigan is 35-40 cm long and 490-1200 g in weight. Rock ptarmigans moult three times a year. White during the winter, brownish summer plumage. The male always has a red stripe above the eye.

Distribution / Migration: The Rock ptarmigan can be found in most areas in the arctic. The subspecies L.m.hyperborea is only found in Svalbard and Franz Josef Land. In Svalbard, the ptarmigan occurs everywhere except the northeasternmost parts of the archipelago. It is the only bird that remains on land during the whole year and does not migrate to open water or southwards.

Biology: The rock ptarmigan lives of vegetation; the exact composition of the diet changes with the seasons. The male occupies the breeding territory as early as mid March. This is often a steep, rocky slope, where some vegetation is still available. Mating takes place in May and egg laying (nine to eleven eggs) in early or mid May, depending on the timing of the snow melt. The female sits for three weeks.

Svalbard Ptarmigan

Rock ptarmigan (female in the front).

Miscellaneous: The size of the population in Svalbard is not known, but ptarmigan are quite abundant. In suitable terrain, there may be three to five males with one or two hens each per square kilometre. In Spitsbergen, ptarmigan are hunted by locals in autumn and early winter.
The scientific name used to be Lagopus mutus, but it has recently been changed into Lagopus muta, because lagopus is derived from an ancient Greek word of feminine gender, which indicates “hare foot”.

Svalbard Ptarmigan

Moulting male Rock ptarmigan, also called Svalbard ptarmigan.


last modification: 2017-12-14 · copyright: Rolf Stange