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White-tailed Ptarmigan, Jess Findlay
Photo © Jess Findlay

Photo: Jess Findlay
Breeding evidence - White-tailed Ptarmigan
Breeding evidence
Probability of observation - White-tailed Ptarmigan
Probability of observation

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White-tailed Ptarmigan
Lagopus leucura

Click on plot to view table of mean abundance
Elevation range:
2008 - 2108 m
Conserv. status:
BCRISC: Blue (saxatilis subspecies)
Global importance
of B.C. population:
Number of squares
ConfirmedProbablePossiblePoint counts
67 16 40 2
Long-term BBS trends
RegionYearsTrend (conf. interv.) Reliab.
BBS trends are not available for this species

Mean abundance by region

Bird Conservation Regions [plot]
NW Interior ForestBoreal Taiga PlainsGreat BasinNorthern RockiesN. Pacific Rainforest
Ecoprovinces [plot]
N. Boreal Mountains Taiga Plains Boreal Plains Georgia Depression Sub-Boreal Interior
S. Interior Mountains Central Interior Southern Interior S. Alaska Mountains Coast & Mountains

Mean abundance by habitat [plot]

Boreal Altai Fescue AlpineBoreal White and Black SpruceBunchgrassCoastal Douglas-fir
Coastal Mountain-heather AlpineCoastal Western HemlockEngelmann Spruce -- Subalpine FirInterior Cedar -- Hemlock
Interior Douglas-firInterior Mountain-heather AlpineMontane SpruceMountain Hemlock
Ponderosa PineSpruce -- Willow -- BirchSub-Boreal Pine -- SpruceSub-Boreal Spruce

Characteristics and Range This smallest of the three ptarmigan that occur in North America, it is also distinguishable from the others in flight by its distinctive white tail feathers. The White-tailed Ptarmigan is found only in alpine habitats of western North America, where it is resident from Alaska and Yukon south through the mountains of British Columbia, including patchily through the southern Rocky Mountains (Braun et al. 1993). The isolated subspecies L. l. saxatilis is endemic to Vancouver Island (Campbell et al. 1990, Braun et al. 1993).

Distribution, Abundance, and Habitat The White-tailed Ptarmigan has the widest distribution of all ptarmigan in British Columbia and is a rare to common resident throughout mountainous regions (Campbell et al. 1990). It is much more widespread in the southern half of British Columbia than the other two species of ptarmigan, with clusters of records in the East and West Kootenay ranges, and the Cascade, southern Coast and Vancouver Island mountains. Breeding is from 1,280-1,450 m on Vancouver Island and from 1,830-2,650 m in the interior (Campbell et al. 1990).

Three ecoprovinces support separate extensive areas of higher Probability of Observation: the Northern Boreal Mountains, the Coast and Mountains, and the Southern Interior Mountains. The highest PObs values are in the three alpine and, in coastal regions, the Mountain Hemlock biogeoclimatic zones.

The White-tailed Ptarmigan is strictly alpine, breeding at or above timberline and preferring rocky areas, krummholz, moist vegetation near snowfields and streams, and willow-dominated plant communities.

Conservation and Recommendations The Province of British Columbia has a high global responsibility for the conservation of White-tailed Ptarmigan because the province constitutes a large portion of the species range. Climate change may negatively affect the White-tailed Ptarmigan nesting habitat if treelines continue to rise, but little is known of the species' population trends (NABCI-Canada 2012).

The subspecies L. l. saxatilis is Blue-listed in British Columbia, due to its small population size and its local distribution within a restricted range (British Columbia Conservation Data Centre 2014); it is limited to higher elevations (above 820 m) on Vancouver Island. It is vulnerable to population extinction processes (Martin et al. 2000) and its habitat is threatened by recreational conflicts, air and ground-based pollutants, forest harvesting, and climate change (Martin and Forbes 2001, 2004). Some specific management recommendations for L. l. saxatilis are presented by Martin and Forbes (2004).

Art Martell

Recommended citation: Martell, A. 2015. White-tailed Ptarmigan in Davidson, P.J.A., R.J. Cannings, A.R. Couturier, D. Lepage, and C.M. Di Corrado (eds.). The Atlas of the Breeding Birds of British Columbia, 2008-2012. Bird Studies Canada. Delta, B.C. [14 Jun 2024]

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