By Chester A. Reed
WILLOW PTARMIGAN (Lagopus lagopus lagopus). There are three distinct species of Ptarmigan or "Snow Grouse," several species not so well defined, and several, races of some of these species. The present species, or its varieties, inhabits the Arctic regions generally, in America breeding from southern Ungava, Kecwatin and the Aleutian Islands northward, and in winter coming south to Ontario, Minnesota and British Columbia and casually to the New England States.
ROCK PTARMIGAN (Lagopus rupeslris rupeslris). Slightly smaller than the last, measuring a trifle more than a foot. The bill is considerably smaller comparatively, and in all stages of plumage there is a black spot in front of the eyes. This species is found in northern Canada from Ungava to Alaska where several similar races occur.
WHITE-TAILED PTARMIGAN (Lagopus leucurus) are still smaller and all the tail feathers are wholly white. These are found in the Rocky Mountains from New Mexico north to Alaska.
Ptarmigan are remarkable birds in that they are in an almost continual state of molting, nearly every month in the year showing them in different stages of plumage, ranging from the snow-white winter dress to the summer one in which reddish-brown prevails on Willow Ptarmigan and a black and gray barred effect predominates on the other species. Notice that they are feathered to the toes, in winter the feathers on the toes growing dense and hair-like, not only protecting the toes from the cold but making excellent snowshoes which enable them to walk with impunity over the lightest snow.
Ptarmigan form the staple article of diet for northern foxes, and were it not for the fact that their plumage changes to correspond to the appearance of the ground at the various seasons they would fare hardly indeed.
In spring the little red combs above the eyes of the males are swollen and conspicuous. At this season they strut and perform curious antics, such as all grouse are noted for.