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Ptarmigan
Lagopus spp.

Ptarmigan are small chicken-like birds which live year round in the arctic lands, and are found most commonly on tundra hiding in rocks or bushes.  They have two different colors of plumage depending upon the season. They are brownish with dark stripes in summer, but completely white in winter.  These changes in appearance are so they can hide when they eat.  In summer, they blend into the tundra plants and look like shadows; in winter, they look like the snowy ground they walk on.  Because Snowy Owls are camouflaged in the same way, Ptarmigan have to be careful when they move around to eat.  If they aren't, the owls will catch them!  Ptarmigan can fly, but they usually like to walk slowly and eat berries and leaves from the tundra plants.

PTARMIGAN

Ptarmigan
Photo © Eric P. Hoberg

Picture

19th Century Naturalist
Edward Nelson Recounts:

"They move in flocks, often numbering several hundred, during their migration, when they pass to and from their summer haunts. Among the Alaskan natives, both Eskimo and Indian, especially those in the northern two thirds of the Territory, this bird is one of the most important sources of food supply, and through the entire winter it is snared and shot in great abundance, and many times it is the only defense Eskimo possess against the ever-recurring periods of scarcity and famine.

The Eskimo of the Kaviak peninsula have a curious way of taking advantage of the peculiarities of this bird in their migrating season. Taking a long and medium fine-meshed fishing-net they spread it by fastening cross-pieces to it at certain distances, then taking their places just at sunset in early November or the last of October, on a low open valley or swale extending north and south, they stretch the net across the middle of this highway, with a man and sometimes two at each cross-piece, while the women and children conceal themselves behind the neighboring clumps of bushes.  As twilight advances the net is raised and held up tight.  Ere long the flocks of Ptarmigan are seen approaching skimming along close to the snow-covered earth in the dim twilight, and a moment later, as the first birds come in contact with the obstacle, the men press the net down upon the snow sometimes securing fifty to sixty birds."

Ptarmigan
Hand colored from nature by
Edward Nelson

Picture

Ptarmigan
Hand colored from nature by
Edward Nelson

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