Willow Grouse (Willow Ptarmigan)

The Willow Grouse (Europe) or Willow Ptarmigan (North America)(Lagopus lagopus), is a medium-sized game bird of the grouse family. It breeds in birch and other forests and tundra across northern Eurasia, and in Alaska and northern Canada. The Willow Ptarmigan is the state bird of Alaska.

The spring male is brown above with a reddish neck and white wings and under parts. The female is similar, but lacks the pure white belly. In winter, both sexes’ plumages become completely white except that the tail is black. They can be distinguished from the winter Ptarmigan by habitat (not venturing above the tree line), larger size, thicker bill, and lack of black between the eye and bill in the winter male.

The male Willow Grouse is unique in its nesting behavior. In all other species of grouse, only the female takes responsibility for the young. However, the male Willow Grouse often takes responsibility of the young by staunchly defending his territory and his young. Males have even been documented to have attacked a Grizzly Bear and will attack humans who distract their young.

These are hardy vegetarian birds, but insects are also taken by the developing young. The male’s song is a loud “go-back go-back”.