The Ptarmigan is getting ready for winter. Its plumage is changing from the earthen colours of its summer habitat to the white of the winter snows.
It seems there are more Ptarmigans now than often before. The summer was a good one for breeding and in the forests that we frequent we see groups of them. These are probably parents with their grown young ones from early summer but the chicks are often 10-12 in one breeding.
It is late August in the highlands and already autumn. The seven Ptarmigan chicks we came across were so small that we worry they will not make it through the winter. After about a month the first snows can be expected.
The Ptarmigan is well adapted to the Icelandic climate and will stay in the highlands until the weather becomes so bad they can not find food. Then they will move down to the lowlands and survive the winter if they do not fall prey to predators such as foxes and falcons, not to mention the greatest threat of all – the man.
The Ptarmigan has almost shed its summer plumage, getting whiter every day. While the ground is snowless it is easy to spot this tame bird. Tomorrow is the start of the hunting season, which lasts 12 days or four long weekends. Estimated breeding population has dropped from last year. Despite this the number of hunting days has not been changed. Hopefully it will snow so the Ptarmigan will not be as easy to spot. According to the weather forecast this might come true tomorrow.
The Ptarmigan changes its colour to white in the winter. Nature is peculiar. The male stays whiter longer but the female gets its camouflage colours earlier to match the colours of nature. The female needs to go unnoticed while keeping the eggs warm in the nest. The male is white and thus catches the attention of predators, keeping them away from the nest.
This photo is taken in the Icelandic Westfjords in the beginning June, 2012.
During the winter time the Ptarmigan takes on the white colour of the snow, Being white offers protection from birds of prey and foxes. It is difficult to spot the Ptarmigan nestling in the dense forest.
This male Ptarmigan is awaiting spring in a pine grove in Grímsnes, South Iceland. Photo taken last weekend.