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White-tailed Ptarmigan

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A white-tailed ptarmigan
White-tailed Ptarmigan

Above eleven thousand feet in a Colorado winter, the only bird you’re likely to see – if you see it at all – is the White-tailed Ptarmigan.

When mountains are bare, this tiniest member of the grouse family blends into the scenery with mostly mottled brown-and-gray plumage. But when the snow comes, the whole ptarmigan turns the color of its tail, including the extra feathers on its legs for insulation and its feet for snowshoes – useful for a bird that only lives above treeline and prefers walking over flying.

One other adornment: a Scottish naturalist added the silent letter ‘p’ to the front of the word ‘ptarmigan,’ thinking it would make the word look more Greek. The bird itself, however, is not silent, especially come breeding season, when high above treeline you might hear the white-tailed ptarmigan.

About Colorado Postcards

Colorado Postcards

Colorado Postcards are snapshots of our colorful state in sound. They give brief insights into our people and places, our flora and fauna, and our past and present, from every corner of Colorado.