The Ptarmigan is an arctic bird that spends most of its life on the ground. They have rounded bodies, short tails, and short rounded white wings. The ptarmigan also has feathered feet, helping it to walk on the snow. Ptarmigans change their color 3 times in a single year! In the winter they are completely white to hide them from enemies and to blend in with the snow. But in the early spring ptarmigans will moult--shed their old feathers--and turn brown with areas of gold and black feathers. In the fall they are usually a grayish color before turning white for the winter again.
Ptarmigans are mostly found in tundra areas close to the North Pole such as northern Canada and Greenland. However, the North American White-tailed Ptarmigan can be seen in parts of Alaska and the northwest USA. They like areas with plenty of plants and low trees. In the winter these birds must migrate long distances to find food. Ptarmigans are mostly plant eaters. They eat leaves, berries, stems, and seeds in the summer. Sometimes they will also eat arctic mosses or small insects. In the winter food is very scarce. Ptarmigans scratch at the snow on the ground to find grasses and eat the needles of pine or fur trees. They will also look for scrub bushes of the arctic. When possible they use holes that larger animals have dug to get closer to the ground and their food.
Male ptarmigans mate with only 1 female at a time. Only if the bird population is very high will males choose 2 or 3 females per year. After the female lays the eggs in the spring, the male ptarmigan will guard both the female and the nest that she has built. But when the young are almost ready to hatch the male will leave female alone to guard and raise the young. Chicks hatch 3 weeks after the eggs are laid. After only 1 week they are able to take short flights on their own--by October they are adult size and independent.