Willow Grouse or Willow Ptarmigan

The Willow Ptarmigan (Lapopus lagopus) – also known as Red Grouse or Willow Grouse in Europe – is a medium-sized gamebird.

This is also the state bird of Alaska.

Lagopus lagopus

Willow Grouse

Distribution / Range

These grouses occur naturally in the forests and moorlands in the tundra of Scotland, Scandinavia, Siberia, Alaska and northern Canada.

The British subspecies – the Red Grouse (by some authorities considered a separate species) – is typically found in moorland areas.

They are sedentary (non-migratory).

Willow Ptarmigan

Female Willow Grouse

Description

The Willow Grouses measure about 35 – 44 cm in height and have a wingspan of about 60 – 65 cm.

Males in the summer are a marbled brown above, with a reddish hue to the neck and breast area. It has a black tail, and white wings and underparts. It has two wattles above the eyes, which become a prominent red in the breeding season. They are deep-chested and have a long neck, a broad bill, short feathered legs and a short rounded tail. 

Females have more brown feathers on the belly area, and lack the wattles in the eye area. In the winter the plumage becomes completely white on both genders, except for the black tail.

The Red Grouse has a reddish brown plumage throughout the year and white feet.

Similar Species:

They resemble the (Rock) Ptarmigan (L. muta) but the Willow Grouse usually remainsbelow the tree line, is larger in size, has a browner plumage, and a thicker bill. Also, the winter Willow Grouse male lacks black loral stripe (= loral area is the area between beak and eyes).

Willow Grouse of Europe, and called Willow Ptarmigan

Vocalizations

The male’s call is described as a loud go-back go-back.

Breeding / Nesting

They nest in grasses.

Diet / Feeding

In the summer, their diet may consist of berries, flowers, leaves, twigs, and seeds.

During the winter, the majority of a Willow Ptarmigan’s nutrition is obtained from shrubs, and birch trees.