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Mastery of camouflage

A rock ptarmigan struts down a snowy slope on a mountain pass in France.

Of all the tundra birds that can survive the harsh temperatures and low productivity, the rock ptarmigan, Lagopus muta is a classic example of adaptation. It is a medium-sized bird from the grouse family and has an incredibly wide distribution range stretching across the Arctic and Sub-Arctic regions of North America and Eurasia.

But when you actually see one in the wild, what strikes you is how easily it blends into its surroundings. You see, in autumn when the mountains are beginning to look like chocolate-sprinkeled vanilla ice-cream, the birds' feathers begin to change colour. In summer, they have a barred greyish/brownish pattern and in winter they turn snow white.

A master of camouflage, a ptarmigan huddles between rocks on a snowy slope.

Feathers. These chicken-like birds are covered in feathers- their bodies, their feet and even their beaks! The feathers on the outside protects these birds from the snow and the wind and the soft, downy feathers close to their bodies traps heat and keeps them warm. The feather on the ptarmigan's feet act as snow shoes allowing them to walk in the snow without sinking.

It was a hunter who told me where to find this trio and although I don't fully approve of his activities, I do admire his knowledge and keen sense of observation in the field. And of course I am grateful that he was generous enough to share this information with me!

​Rock ptarmigan in flight.

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