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BC Conservation Data Centre: Species Summary

Lagopus leucura
White-tailed Ptarmigan

Scientific Name: Lagopus leucura (Richardson, 1831)
Scientific Name Synonyms: Lagopus leucurus
English Name: White-tailed Ptarmigan
Classification / Taxonomy
Scientific Name - Concept Reference: American Ornithologists' Union (AOU). 1998. Check-list of North American birds. Seventh edition. American Ornithologists' Union, Washington, D.C. [as modified by subsequent supplements and corrections published in The Auk]. Also available online:
Classification Level: Species
Taxonomy Comments: Changed from L. leucurus to L. leucura as per 45th Supplement AOU Update (Feb 21, 2005 DDW).
Species Group: Vertebrate Animal
Species Code: B-WTPT
Kingdom Phylum Class Order Family
Animalia Craniata Aves Galliformes Phasianidae
Conservation Status / Legal Designation
Global Status: G5 (Apr 2016)
Provincial Status: S5? (Mar 2015)
BC List: Yellow
Provincial FRPA list:   
Provincial Wildlife Act:
SARA Schedule:
General Status Canada: 4 - Secure (2005)
Migratory Bird Convention Act:
Ecology & Life History
General Description:
Global Reproduction Comments: Female incubates 4-7, sometimes 3-9, eggs for 22-23 days (Harrison 1978). Nestlings are precocial and downy. Brood size in Sierra Nevada averaged 2.6-2.8; brood size in five areas in Colorado was 3.2-4.5; brood size at flight age in Montana was 3.3-3.5. Young are guarded by both parents, capable of flying in about 10 days. Monogamous. In the Sierra Nevada, reproductive success decreased with increasing spring snow depth (Condor 94:622-627).
Global Ecology Comments: Broods stay together in family groups until following spring (Harrison 1978). Sedentary. In the Sierra Nevada, overall density was 4.4-5.7/100 ha in breeding season, 4.7-7.1/100 ha postbreeding; density within occupied habitat was 10.5-14.2/100 ha in breeding season, 21.8-27.7/100 ha postbreeding; number of breeding pairs was 1.8/100 ha and 2.8/100 ha in two areas (Frederick and Gutierrez 1992). Overall breeding density at Logan Pass, Montana, was 6.8/100 ha; density within suitable habitat was 19.3/100 ha; 10.6/100 ha postbreeding. In Colorado, breeding density in three unhunted populations was 9.6-11.9/100 ha; 15.7-23.4 postbreeding (see Frederick and Gutierrez 1992). In Colorado, winter home ranges of 17 females averaged 1.62 sq km (4 of these averaged 2.44 sq km); those of 2 males averaged 0.44 sq km; winter density averaged 10-20 birds/sq km (Giesen and Braun 1992).
Migration Characteristics:
(Global / Provincial)
    Local Migrant:
    Distant Migrant:
    Within Borders Migrant:
Y /
N /
N /
na /
(Type / Subtype / Dependence)
Alpine/Tundra / Alpine Grassland / Unknown
Alpine/Tundra / Alpine/Subalpine Meadow / Unknown
Alpine/Tundra / Krummholtz / Unknown
Alpine/Tundra / Tundra / Unknown
Grassland/Shrub / Grassland / Unknown
Grassland/Shrub / Meadow / Unknown
Grassland/Shrub / Shrub - Natural / Unknown
Lakes / Lake / Unknown
Other Unique Habitats / Avalanche Track / Unknown
Rock/Sparsely Vegetated Rock / Cliff / Unknown
Rock/Sparsely Vegetated Rock / Rock/Sparsely Vegetated Rock / Unknown
Rock/Sparsely Vegetated Rock / Talus / Unknown
Stream/River / Stream/River / Unknown
Wetland / Bog / Unknown
Wetland / Fen / Unknown
Wetland / Marsh / Unknown
Wetland / Swamp / Unknown
Global Habitat Comments: Alpine tundra, especially in rocky areas with sparse vegetation (AOU 1983). Summer habitats in the Rocky Mountains consistently include moist, low-growing alpine vegetation. In Colorado, percent canopy cover of willow was higher at winter feeding sites than at random sites (Giesen and Braun 1992). In the Sierra Nevada, breeding season habitats were in areas of tall (>30 cm) willow shrubs and contained more subshrub, moss, and boulder cover than in unused habitats; in postbreeding season, used topographic depressions within breeding territories; brooding hens used moist meadows, while flocks occupied sites with abundant boulders; primarily used the SALIX ANGLORUM ANTIPLASTA vegetation alliance on rocky, north-facing slopes; willow abundance and proximity to water were important habitat factors (Frederick and Gutierrez 1992). Nests in alpine tundra, in rocky areas or sparsely vegetated, grassy slopes. Tends to search for vacant territory in natal area. High fidelity to breeding territory in successive years.
Food Habits: Granivore: Adult, Immature
Herbivore: Adult, Immature
Global Food Habits Comments: Winter diet alder catkins, willow buds and twigs (primary winter food in Colorado is willow buds); also buds and needles of spruces, pines, and firs. Spring and summer diet leaves and flowers of herbaceous plants, willow buds, berries, seeds, and insects.
Global Phenology: Diurnal: Adult, Immature
Provincial Phenology:
(1st half of month/
2nd half of month)
Colonial Breeder: N
Length(cm)/width(cm)/Weight(g): 32/ / 348
Elevation (m) (min / max): Global: 
Endemic: N
Global Range Comment: RESIDENT: central Alaska, northern Yukon, southwestern Mackenzie, south to Kenai Peninsula; Vancouver Island, Canada, Cascade Mountains in Washington, and in Rocky Mountains from British Columbia and Alberta south to northern New Mexico; introduced and established outside native range in high central Sierra Nevada in California (see Frederick and Gutierrez [1992] for account of release and range expansion); releases also have been made in the Wallowa Mountains in Oregon, Pike's Peak in Colorado, and Uintah Mountains in Utah.
Authors / Contributors
Global Information Author: Hammerson, G.
Last Updated: Apr 11, 1996
Provincial Information Author:
Last Updated:
References and Related Literature
American Ornithologists' Union (AOU). 1983. Check-list of North American Birds, 6th edition. Allen Press, Inc., Lawrence, Kansas. 877 pp.
Bergerud, A. T., and M. W. Gratson, editors. 1987. Adaptive strategies and population ecology of northern grouse. Univ. Minnesoat Press. 785 pp.
Campbell, R.W., N.K. Dawe, I. McTaggart-Cowan, J.M. Cooper, G.W. Kaiser, and M.C.E. McNall. 1990. The Birds of British Columbia Vol. 2: Nonpasserines: Diurnal Birds of Prey through Woodpeckers. Royal British Columbia Museum, Victoria, BC.
Ellsworth, D. L., R. L. Honeycut, and N. J. Silvy. 1995. Phylogenetic relationships among North American grouse inferred from restriction endonuclease analysis of mitochondrial DNA. Condor 97:492-502.
Frederick, G. P., and R. J. Gutierrez. 1992. Habitat use and population characteristics of the white-tailed ptarmigan in the Sierra Nevada, California. Condor 94:889-902.
Giesen, K. M., and C. E. Braun. 1992. Winter home range and habitat characteristics of white-tailed ptarmigan in Colorado. Wilson Bull. 104:263-272.
Harrison, C. 1978. A Field Guide to the Nests, Eggs and Nestlings of North American Birds. Collins, Cleveland, Ohio.
Hoffman, R. W., and K. M. Giesen. 1983. Demography of an introduced population of white-tailed ptarmigan. Can. J. Zool. 61:1758-1764.
Johnsgard, P.A. 1983b. The grouse of the world. University of Nebraska Press, Lincoln, NE. xvi + 413 pp.
Terres, J. K. 1980. The Audubon Society encyclopedia of North American birds. Alfred A. Knopf, New York.

Please visit the website Conservation Status Ranks for definitions of the data fields used in this summary report.

Suggested Citation:

B.C. Conservation Data Centre. 1996. Species Summary: Lagopus leucura. B.C. Minist. of Environment. Available: (accessed Oct 27, 2020).