Height: 30-33 cm. The smallest ptarmigan in North America, adults of the saxitalis subspecies of White-tailed Ptarmigan are chubby and round. Eyes and beak are black. As with other ptarmigan, White-tailed Ptarmigan have a cryptic molt pattern that changes according to season and breeding cycles. In winter the bird is completely white except for the eyes and beak. As spring approaches and snow levels diminish with lengthening daylight and increasing temperatures, birds morph from all white to intermediary mix of white and mottled grey-brown. A complete transition to breeding plumage of mottled grey-brown with only the retrices (outer margins of tail feathers) remaining white occurs in the summer. The feathered feet (another trait of ptarmigan) remain covered in white feathers all year. A very small red eyebrow patch is visible in summer. Eggs are a buff colour with small, dark-brown spotting. Both eggs and seasonal molt patterns are effective year round camouflage for this bird which nests and forages in open, exposed and often rocky high elevation habitats. Considered endemic to Vancouver Island, the saxatilis subspecies was first described in 1938. It differs from its mainland counterpart through subtle morphological differences in the bill and plumage.
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Hoffman, R.W. 2006. [Internet]. White-tailed Ptarmigan (Lagopus leucura): a technical conservation assessment. [Online]. USDA Forest Service, Rocky Mountain Region.
Martin, Kathy and Lindsay Forbes. 2004. [Internet] Accounts and Measures for Managing Identified Wildlife – Accounts V. 2004. Vancouver Island White-tailed Ptarmigan Lagopus leucura saxatilis.
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Martin, Kathy et al. 1998. [Internet]. Centre for Applied Conservation Biology University of British Columbia. Where are the White-tailed Ptarmigan on Vancouver Island? A summary of observations by hikers and naturalists.
Polster, D. et al. 2006. [Internet] Develop with Care: Environmental Guidelines for Urban and Rural Land Development in British Columbia. B.C. Minist. of Environment. Victoria, B.C.
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First edition prepared in 2010 by Pamela Zevit RPBio for the South Coast Conservation Program (SCCP) with , in partnership with: International Forest Products (Interfor), Capacity Forestry (CapFor). Original funding was made possible through the Sustainable Forestry Initiative (SFI) Revised 2015 by Isabelle Houde, RPBio in consultation with the SCCP.
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