Latin name: Lagopus mutus
Size: Length 34 - 36cm Wingspan 54 - 60cm
Where: Mountain boulder fields above 2000m, for example Ben Lomond; Ben Vorlich
When: All year round
True mountain-dwellers, you rarely see these pigeon-sized birds below 2000m. Their name comes from the Gaelic tarmachan, which means ‘croaker’ – and it’s often their call that gives away their presence. They are masters of disguise, their lichen-grey plumage matching the boulder fields where they make their homes in summer, gradually changing to the mottled white of the winter snowfields.
They are shyer of the golden eagle, their most feared predator, than they are of people, relying on their camouflage to keep them safe. If you manage to get close enough you will see that ptarmigans’ feet are swathed in thick feathers, like miniature snowshoes. These protect them from the constant cold of the winter snow holes where they roost.
The adults feed on the shoots of plants like heather and blaeberry, which often peep through the snow even in the depths of winter. But the chicks are fed on insects, and a cold, wet spring can seriously affect their chances of survival.
The mountains of the National Park are probably their most southern outpost in the UK, and although a handful of other birds can been seen this high in the mountains, ptarmigan are the only species to make a permanent home here.
Find out more at: