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Willow Ptarmigan - BirdForum Opus

L. l. lagopus, male in moult from winter to summer plumage
Photo © by steinn
Troms, Norway, May 2007

Alternative name: Willow Grouse

Lagopus lagopus

Includes: Red Grouse


L. l. lagopus, summer female
Photo © by Kudryavtsev
Yamal Peninsula, Russia, July 2006

36–43 cm (14¼-17 in)
Summer male - red-brown head and neck, white belly splashed with brown, black tail feathers and red wattle over eye.
Winter male - entirely white, except for black eyes, bill, and outer tail feathers, and red wattle over eye. The feet are heavily feathered and act much like snow shoes.
Summer female - mottled brown (less reddish than the male) with some white on the belly.
Winter female - identical to the winter male, except red wattle over eye smaller.


L. l. scotica does not have a white winter plumage; L. l. variegata (possibly of hybrid origin between resident L. l. lagopus and introduced L. l. scoticus) has only limited winter white.

Similar species

Rock Ptarmigan is very similar in its white winter plumage, distinguishable only by its smaller bill, and in males, black lores; in summer plumage it is much greyer, lacking rufous tones. White-tailed Ptarmigan lacks the black outer tail feathers, having a pure white tail in all plumages.


L. l. scotica, male
Photo © by IanF
Langdon Common, Teesdale, England, April 2005

Arctic and subarctic regions of North America, Europe and Asia, south to around 47°N in Newfoundland and eastern Siberia (Sakhalin), and to 51°N in western Canada, Britain, and the mountains of north-central Asia.



L. l. alascensis, female
Photo © by steenl
Denali National Park, Alaska, October 2005
Juvenile, Subspecies scotica, Red Grouse
Photo © by markranner
Highland Scotland, August 2018
L. l. scotica, male in flight
Photo © by iainhawk
Peak District, UK, June 2006

There are 19 subspecies[1]:

  • L. l. scotica: Red Grouse
  • L. l. variegata
  • Coastal Norway (islands off Trondheim Fjord); validity doubtful
  • L. l. lagopus
  • L. l. rossica
  • L. l. birulai
  • New Siberian Islands
  • L. l. koreni
  • L. l. kamtschatkensis
  • Kamchatka Peninsula and Kuril Islands
  • L. l. maior
  • Steppes of south-western Siberia and northern Kazakstan
  • L. l. brevirostris
  • Altai Mountains and Sayan Mountains
  • L. l. kozlowae
  • Western Mongolia (Tanmu-Ola, Khangai and Kentei Mountains)
  • L. l. sserebrowsky
  • Eastern Siberia (Lake Baikal to Sea of Okhotsk and Sikhote Alin Mountains)
  • L. l. okadai
  • Sakhalin Island
  • L. l. muriei
  • L. l. alexandrae
  • L. l. alascensis
  • L. l. leucoptera
  • Arctic islands of northern Canada and adjacent mainland to southern Baffin Island
  • L. l. alba
  • L. l. ungavus
  • L. l. alleni

The subspecies L. l. scoticus is considered a full species, Red Grouse, by a few authors. Some also treat Irish birds as a separate subspecies L. l. hibernica, but this is not widely followed.


Male transitioning color from winter to summer, subspecies alascensis
Photo © by Gerald Friesen
Nome Alaska, 4 June 2019

Tundra, thickets with alder and willow trees, open forests and shrub meadows high in the mountains where the temperature is colder.



The diet includes leaves and shoots of plants, especially willow Salix, heather Calluna, and birch Betula; also berries, seeds and insects.


The nest is a hollowed out area on the ground lined with feathers and grass, sheltered by rocks or logs. The female incubates the 7-10 eggs for about 21 days while the male guards the area. The only grouse with male parental care; males have been known to attack Grizzly Bear.


  1. Clements, J. F., T. S. Schulenberg, M. J. Iliff, D. Roberson, T. A. Fredericks, B. L. Sullivan, and C. L. Wood. 2018. The eBird/Clements checklist of birds of the world: v2018. Downloaded from http://www.birds.cornell.edu/clementschecklist/download/

Recommended Citation

External Links

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