©Tom Marshall

Ptarmigan flock

©Mark Hamblin/2020VISION


©Margaret Holland


©Stuart Anthony


Scientific name: Lagopus mutus
The ptarmigan is a master of disguise - matching its Highland surroundings perfectly by turning snow-white in winter and rock-grey in summer. It is confined to the mountains of Scotland, so is difficult to spot.

Species information


Length: 34-36cm

Wingspan: 54-60cm

Weight: 400-500g
Average lifespan: 3-4 years

Conservation status

Classified in the UK as Red under the Birds of Conservation Concern 5: the Red List for Birds (2021).

When to see

January to December


The ptarmigan, also known as the 'rock ptarmigan', is a plump bird, a little larger than a grey partridge. It is exclusively found in the Scottish Highlands. Mature birds eat seeds, berries, nuts and leaves, while juveniles also eat invertebrates. When breeding, males usually mate with one hen, producing one brood a year of around seven eggs.

How to identify

In winter, the ptarmigan has thick, snow-white plumage. It moults in summer, becoming a flecked mixture of brown, grey and black.


Found only in the Scottish Highlands.

Did you know?

Male ptarmigans can be identified by the bright red eye-patches they sport in the summer. In winter, they turn almost completely white to blend into their cold, snowy surroundings.

How people can help

The Wildlife Trusts are helping to restore and protect our montane habitats by working closely with landowners to ensure that our wildlife is protected and to promote wildlife-friendly practices. You can help by following the Countryside Code when you are out and about and binning your litter or taking it home with you.