Height: 30-33 cm. The smallest ptarmigan in North America, adults of the saxitalis subspecies of White-tailed Ptarmigan are chubby and round. Eyes and beak are black. As with other ptarmigan, White-tailed Ptarmigan have a cryptic molt pattern that changes according to season and breeding cycles. In winter the bird is completely white except for the eyes and beak. As spring approaches and snow levels diminish with lengthening daylight and increasing temperatures, birds morph from all white to intermediary mix of white and mottled grey-brown. A complete transition to breeding plumage of mottled grey-brown with only the retrices (outer margins of tail feathers) remaining white occurs in the summer. The feathered feet (another trait of ptarmigan) remain covered in white feathers all year. A very small red eyebrow patch is visible in summer. Eggs are a buff colour with small, dark-brown spotting. Both eggs and seasonal molt patterns are effective year round camouflage for this bird which nests and forages in open, exposed and often rocky high elevation habitats. Considered endemic to Vancouver Island, the saxatilis subspecies was first described in 1938. It differs from its mainland counterpart through subtle morphological differences in the bill and plumage.
B.C. Conservation Data Centre. 2016. [Internet] (Updated January 14, 2013]. Species Summary: Lagopus leucura saxatilis. B.C. Minist. of Environment.
Bird Studies Canada. [Internet] . Important Bird Area Summary Mount Arrowsmith Area Mountains, Port Alberni, B.C.
B.C. Ministry of Environment, Lands and Parks Resources Inventory Branch. 1997. [Internet] RISC Standards # 17 Standardized inventory methodologies for components of British Columbia’s biodiversity. Upland gamebirds: grouse, quail and columbids.
Hoffman, R.W. 2006. [Internet]. White-tailed Ptarmigan (Lagopus leucura): a technical conservation assessment. [Online]. USDA Forest Service, Rocky Mountain Region.
Martin, Kathy and Lindsay Forbes. 2004. [Internet] Accounts and Measures for Managing Identified Wildlife – Accounts V. 2004. Vancouver Island White-tailed Ptarmigan Lagopus leucura saxatilis.
Martin, Kathy and Lindsay Forbes. 2001. [Internet]. Centre for Alpine Studies University of British Columbia. Species Account Vancouver Island White-tailed Ptarmigan Lagopus leucurus saxatilis.
Martin, Kathy et al. 1998. [Internet]. Centre for Applied Conservation Biology University of British Columbia. Where are the White-tailed Ptarmigan on Vancouver Island? A summary of observations by hikers and naturalists.
Polster, D. et al. 2006. [Internet] Develop with Care: Environmental Guidelines for Urban and Rural Land Development in British Columbia. B.C. Minist. of Environment. Victoria, B.C.
Proulx, Gilbert et al. 2003. A Field Guide to Species at Risk in the Coast Forest Region of British Columbia. Published by International Forest Products and BC Ministry of Environment. Victoria, B.C.
Species Profile prepared by: Pamela Zevit for the South Coast Conservation Program (SCCP) in partnership with: International Forest Products (Interfor), Capacity Forestry (CapFor) and the BC Ministry of Environment (BC MoE). Funding was made possible through the Sustainable Forestry Initiative (SFI): http://www.sfiprogram.org.
Updated and revised by: Isabelle Houde, RPBio in consultation with the SCCP. Part of the National Conservation Plan, this project was undertaken with the financial support of the Government of Canada. Dans le cadre du Plan de Conservation National, ce projet a été réalisé avec l’appui financier du Gouvernement du Canada.
Every effort has been made to ensure content accuracy. Comments or corrections should be directed to the South Coast Conservation
Program: firstname.lastname@example.org. Content updated February 2016.
Image Credits: White-tailed Ptarmigan saxatilis ssp. (summer): Calypso Orchid (Flickr), White-tailed Ptarmigan (winter): David Restivo US National Parks Service, Habitat: Calypso Orchid (Flickr). Only images sourced from “creative commons” sources (e.g. Wikipedia, Flickr, U.S. Government) can be used without permission and for non-commercial purposes only. All other images have been contributed for use by the SCCP and its