White-tailed Ptarmigan (Lagopus leucurus)
Associated Species: Other species using similar alpine habitats include American Pipit, Brown-capped Rosy-Finch, and Horned Lark.
Distribution: White-tailed Ptarmigan inhabit alpine areas from the southern Rocky Mountains in
New Mexico north to Alaska and Northwest Territories (Braun et al. 1993). Introduced into
Sierra Nevada mountains in California, Uinta Mountains in Utah, Wallowa Mountains in Oregon
(Braun et al. 1993). In Colorado, White-tailed Ptarmigan inhabit all mountain ranges with
suitable alpine habitats, including Pikes' Peak, where it was introduced in 1975 (Braun 1971,
Hoffman and Giesen 1983). While typically found in habitats at or above treelimit, this species
typically is found in willow-dominated habitats at lower elevations in winter.
Habitat Requirements: White-tailed Ptarmigan breed in alpine habitats at or above treelimit and
having krummholz or willow dominated vegetation situated near snowfields and rocky areas
(Braun et al. 1993). Nest sites are located in snowfree areas in rocky areas or near willow or
spruce krummholz. In summer males and broods are often found near receding snowfields and
rocky areas at higher elevations. In winter this species occupies willow-dominated basins or
riparian areas at or below treeline where snow is available for roosting.
Ecology: White-tailed Ptarmigan arrive on breeding territories in late April or May and nesting is
initiated in June. Breeding densities are typically 1-5 pairs/km2 . Dispersal of juveniles and
migration to wintering sites occurs in September-October. Adults are long-lived and have high
philopatry to breeding and wintering areas (Giesen and Braun 1992, Braun et al. 1993). The diet
of ptarmigan is varied and primarily comprised of vegetation, especially leaves, buds, and twigs of
willow (May and Braun 1972).
Management Issues and Conservation Recommendations: Excessive grazing by domestic
livestock and wildlife, mining, reservoir development, winter recreation, and road building have
all negatively impacted alpine habitats, especially critical wintering areas (Braun et al. 1976).
Management should emphasize light grazing by both domestic livestock and wild ungulates, total
exclusion of off-road vehicles and snowmobiles except on maintained roads, proper engineering of
mine sites, and careful evaluation of proposed roads, water storage reservoirs, ski developments,
and other recreational and commercial developments for potential impacts on ptarmigan (Braun
1980). Recreational use of alpine areas and manipulation of alpine watersheds for water
development can be expected to increase as Colorado's population increases.
Reasons for Concern: This species occupies a unique habitat and is representative of many other
species in this habitat type.
Biological Objective: Maintain current population levels and distribution of White-tailed
Ptarmigan in alpine areas of Colorado, as based on results of CDOW and other monitoring
Habitat Objectives: Protect alpine areas from further disturbance and development. Wintering
habitats are especially critical to ptarmigan populations and need to be identified and protected
from disturbance or destruction (Braun et al. 1976).
Selected References: Braun 1980, Braun et al. 1976, Braun et al. 1993, Giesen and Braun 1992,
May and Braun 1972.