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Alaska State Bird

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Willow Ptarmigan - The Bird That Changes Color

Alaska designated its state bird in 1955.  The Willow Ptarmigan was chosen.  This bird is abundant throughout the state.  The state bird is famous for its ability to change color from summer to winter seasons.  In the summer months it draws a light brown color.  During the winter the ptarmigan will change to a snow white color that enables it to blend into the habitat and avoid predators.  Three different types of Ptarmigan are found in Alaska.  They are the Willow, Rock, and White-Tailed Ptarmigan.  Ptarmigan are extremely popular amongst
hunters and provide excellent upland game hunting for the state of Alaska.  Bird watchers from around the world also come to study and view these birds.


Alaska State Bird


An easy way to identify the Willow Ptarmigan from other Ptarmigan species is its thick and wide bill.  The bill of a Willow Ptarmigan is the biggest amongst the three species.  Around April and May males will have a color of chestnut-red feathers.  During this time they are easy to identify and is a sign of breeding for the birds.  The chestnut-red feathers only last during the time the birds breed and will change to brown once summer arrives.  As the summer months wind down you will begin to see the white feathers appear.  When winter arrives they will have changed over to their white color.


Alaska State Bird - Willow Ptarmigan


Males are very driven during mating seasons, which occur in May.  As early as March the males will become irritated of other males.  They will stake ground and defend their land.  This land will be used for nesting.  Towards the end of May hens will lay their eggs.  Male Willow Ptarmigan are amongst few birds that participate in taking care of their chicks.  As fall nears the birds will join others to form flocks. 


Willow Ptarmigan the Alaska State Bird


Willow Ptarmigan can be found through the state of Alaska.  They are less abundant in the Southeastern part of the state.  As you move north the birds will be easier to find.  The few places you will not find Willow Ptarmigan are heavily forested areas and parts of the interior.  Coastal areas with light forests and heavy brushed areas are popular grounds for these birds.


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