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Alaska Department of Fish and Game

Bird Viewing
Alaska's Birders' Birds — Rock Ptarmigan

Rock Ptarmigan

Photo of a rock ptarmigan The rock ptarmigan (Lagopus mutus) is smaller than Alaska’s state bird, the willow ptarmigan, but very similar in appearance. Thick bodied and chicken-like in appearance, the male, in its all white winter plumage, is distinguished by a black bar through the eye. The rock ptarmigan also frequents higher and more rocky ground than the willow ptarmigan.

The bird’s habitat is upland and coastal tundra, especially rocky mountain ridges and shrub thickets. It nests on the ground. The rock ptarmigan once occurred throughout the Near Islands (Attu, Agattu, Shemya Nixki-Alaid) along the Aleutian chain but was eliminated from all but Attu by Arctic foxes that were introduced for fur production.

The rock ptarmigan lives in all major treeless areas of Alaska except the flat tundras of the western and northern coasts and feeds primarily on birch and willow buds.

Possible Viewing Areas

  • Anchorage – ridge tops of Arctic Valley
  • Denali National Park – Primrose Ridge
  • Fairbanks - Murphy Dome
  • Steese, Richardson, Denali, Glenn, and Alaska Highways – rocky alpine tundra along ridge tops.
  • Wrangell St Elias National Park and Preserve – hike to Jaeger Mesa from end of Nabesna Road
  • Nome - along the first 40 to 50 miles of Teller Road and in rock canyons along Council Road
  • Kodiak Island – hike into the alpine at Anton Larsen Pass
  • Attu – Engineer Hill by the war monuments
  • Juneau – Granite Creek Trail and Mt Roberts Trail


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