The Rock Ptarmigan breeds in the high mountains of central Honshu. Though it moves down to lower areas, it still spends the winter on snowy mountains, digging a hole in the snow and hibernating. The male cries “gwaa-gwaa” in a harsh voice that you would not expect from a bird.
The photo above shows a male molting into its summer plumage. The plumage of both males and females turns almost completely white during winter.
Play birds singing
In Japan, the Rock Ptarmigan has a connection to ancient mountain worship and has been regarded as a messenger of the gods; however, the population of this revered bird is now estimated at below 2000 due to the negative effects of global warming and the increase of hikers in Japan.
The decline in population is thought to be partly the result of the spread of such predators as foxes, crows, and kestrels to high mountain areas, and partly due to the destruction of vegetation by boars, dear, and monkeys that have also made inroads into the habitats of ptarmigan.
A report from research on the vertical distribution of territory notes that if the annual average temperature goes up by three degrees Celsius, extinction of the Rock Ptarmigan in Japan is highly likely.
Meanwhile, as part of Ptarmigan conservation and breeding projects, zoos and other organizations have joined forces and cooperatively launched various experimental programs, including breeding in captivity and releasing to the wild birds that have been artificially incubated.
Ptarmigan researchers in foreign countries tend to be surprised at the fact that the Rock Ptarmigan in Japan is not scared of people. Since the Rock Ptarmigan, which can be found throughout colder regions of the Northern Hemisphere, is a target of hunters in many countries, it is extremely suspicious of humans. In contrast, the Rock Ptarmigan in Japan, which has survived since the Ice Age, is not afraid of people due to its long history of protection as an object of worship. In recent times, however, this lack of suspicion has brought harm to the birds; incidents of birds being chased by hikers wanting to get their photograph have increased.
Mr. Gaku Tozuka, a bird photographer who provides the photos for the CANON BIRD BRANCH PROJECT website, recently wrote a magazine article entitled “Smartphones are driving away the Rock Ptarmigan”, encouraging people to show due consideration for their environment as well as to adhere to proper etiquette when photographing the birds.
Chicks of the Tetraoninae family leave the nest with their mother soon after they hatch.
The winter plumage of the female turns pure white except for the tail. For the male, the red wattles above the eyes seen in its summer plumage remain, and the fore and back parts of the eyes are black.