The white partridge lives far to the north, which in many ways saved this species from extermination by people. They endure even the most severe frosts and eat frozen branches during those months when other animals either leave the north or hibernate. Partridge fishing is ongoing, but with restrictions so as not to undermine their population.

Origin of the species and description

Photo: Ptarmigan

Photo: Ptarmigan

There are several hypotheses about how and from whom birds originated. The first bird is sometimes considered protoavis, dating back to the late Triassic period – that is, it lived on Earth about 210-220 million years ago. But its status is disputed by many scientists and, if the protoavis is still not a bird, they occurred somewhat later.

The status of Archeopteryx, whose fossil finds are 150 million years old, is indisputable: it is already a bird for sure and, according to scientists, is not the first one – just its closest ancestors have not yet been found. By the advent of Archeopteryx, flight had already been fully mastered by birds, but initially they were flightless – there are several hypotheses as to how exactly this skill developed.

Video: Ptarmigan

Whichever of them is correct, it became possible due to the gradual restructuring of the body: changing the skeleton and developing the necessary muscles. After the appearance of Archeopteryx, the evolution of birds proceeded slowly for a long time, new species appeared, but they all died out, and modern ones arose already in the Cenozoic era, after the Cretaceous-Paleogene extinction.

This also applies to birds of the pheasant family – it is this partridge that includes ptarmigans. Fossils have been found of two historical species belonging to the subfamily of partridges (Perdix) – margaritae and palaeoperdix. The first lived by the Pliocene in Transbaikalia and Mongolia, the second in the south of Europe already in the Pleistocene.

Representatives of the Palaeoperdix species were found even by Neanderthals and Cro-Magnons, these partridges were common in their diet. The phylogenetics of partridges is not completely clear, but it is clear that modern species appeared quite recently, they are hundreds, or even tens of thousands of years old. The ptarmigan was described in 1758 by K. Linnaeus, received the name Lagopus lagopus.

Appearance and features

Photo: What a ptarmigan looks like

Photo: What a ptarmigan looks like

The body of the white partridge reaches 34-40 cm, and it weighs 500-600 grams. Its important feature is a strong change in color depending on the season. In winter, it is almost all white, only black feathers on the tail. In the spring, the mating season begins, at this time in males, in order to make it easier to attract the attention of females, the head and neck become red-brown, standing out strongly against the white.

And by the summer, both males and females have darker feathers, becoming red, different spots and stripes go along them, and usually they are brown, sometimes with black or white patches. Females change color earlier than males, and their summer outfit is somewhat lighter. Also, sexual dimorphism is manifested in size – they are slightly smaller. Young partridges are distinguished by their variegated color, after birth they are dark golden in color and have black and white spots. Then dark brown patterns often appear on them.

There are 15 subspecies, although they differ little in appearance, most often in summer plumage and size. There are two subspecies that live in Great Britain and Ireland: they have no winter attire at all, and the flight feathers are dark. Previously, some scientists even considered them a separate species, but then it was found that this was not so.

Interesting fact: This bird can interbreed with black grouse, and in places where their ranges overlap, this sometimes happens, after which hybrids appear. They look like ptarmigans, but have a more black color and a larger beak.

Where does the ptarmigan live?

Photo: Ptarmigan in Russia

Photo: Ptarmigan in Russia

This the bird inhabits the cold regions of the northern hemisphere – the northern limits of the taiga and the tundra with forest-tundra.

Distributed in the following areas:

  • Canada;
  • Alaska;
  • Greenland;
  • Great Britain;
  • Scandinavian Peninsula;
  • northern Russia from Karelia in the west to Sakhalin in the east.

To the north, partridges are distributed up to the coast of the Arctic Ocean, they inhabit many Arctic islands both near Eurasia and near North America. They also live in the Aleutian Islands. In Europe, the range has been slowly declining for several centuries: back in the 18th century, white partridges were found up to central Ukraine in the south.

In the Far East, there is also a reduction in the range: 60 years ago, these birds were still found in considerable numbers near the Amur itself, now the distribution border has receded far to the north. At the same time, now they can be found throughout Sakhalin, which was not the case before – this happened due to the fact that dark coniferous forests were brought down on the island.

They like to settle along the banks of moss swamps. They often live in the mountains, even quite high, but not higher than the subalpine belt. They can nest in open areas in the tundra, near bushes – they feed.

From the coldest northern regions, such as the islands of the Arctic, birds move south for the winter, but not far. Those that live in warmer areas do not fly away. Usually they fly along the river valleys and stay close to them for the winter, and immediately after the arrival of spring they go back the same way.

Now you know where the white partridge lives. Let's see what she eats.

What does the ptarmigan eat?

Photo: Ptarmigan bird

Photo: Ptarmigan bird

In the diet of the white partridge partridge is dominated by plant food – it occupies 95-98%. But this applies only to the adult, since the chicks are fed insects – this is required for rapid growth.

The adult eats:

  • leaves;
  • seeds;
  • berries;
  • buds;
  • branches;
  • horsetails;
  • mushrooms;
  • insects;
  • shellfish.

In winter, the food of partridges is rather monotonous, it consists of shoots and buds of trees: willow, birch, alder; birds also eat catkins, but in smaller quantities. In November-December, when the snow cover is shallow, they actively feed on blueberry stalks. As the snow cover grows, more and more high-growing tree branches are eaten away. This allows them to feed throughout the winter. In early spring, when the height of the snow cover stops growing, their food is quickly depleted. This is the most difficult time for birds, they have to switch to thicker and coarser shoots – they are more difficult to digest, while the nutritional value is lower.

Therefore, if the cold spring drags on, partridges lose a lot of weight. Then they may not have time to recover, and then they do not lay eggs. When thawed patches appear, a wider diet becomes available to them: leaves, veronica and lingonberry berries, horsetail protrude from under the snow.

Then fresh greens appear, and all nutritional difficulties are behind us. In summer, the diet is varied, it includes grass, berries, seeds, moss, plant flowers, and partridge can also eat mushrooms. By August, more and more begin to eat berries: this is the most delicious food for them. They mainly eat blueberries, bilberries, lingonberries and rose hips. Cranberries are left to overwinter and eaten in the spring.

Only chicks specially hunt for insects, but they do it quite cleverly, they also eat mollusks and spiders. They need a lot of protein to grow quickly. Adult birds only catch livestock, which itself practically falls on the beak, which is why it occupies a small place in the menu of partridges.

Peculiarities of character and lifestyle

Photo: Ptarmigan in Winter

Photo: Ptarmigan in Winter

They live in flocks, temporarily disperse only when the breeding season begins. The flock has an average of 8-12 individuals. During the flight to the south, they form much larger groups of 150-300 partridges. They are most active in the mornings and evenings, rest in the middle of the day, and sleep at night. Males are active all night during mating. The bird leads a predominantly terrestrial lifestyle and usually does not take off during the day, although it is capable of long-distance flights. Able to run fast and hardly noticeable on the ground: in winter it merges with snow, in summer with snags and earth. If you have to escape from a predator, then it can take off, although at first it tries to escape.

Even despite migrating to the south, white partridges spend half a year or more among the snow, and at this time they dig passages under it and spend most of their time in them: in cold conditions they tend to spend a minimum of energy on feeding. In winter, they come out in the morning and feed nearby. When the food runs out, they begin immediately after leaving to make a flight to the feeding place: usually no more than a few hundred meters. They move in small flocks. When feeding, they can jump to a height of up to 15-20 cm, trying to reach higher buds and branches.

They feed actively for an hour, then more slowly, and around noon they rest, returning to their cell under the snow. A few hours later, the second feeding begins, evening. It becomes most intense just before dusk. In total, 4-5 hours are spent on feeding, therefore, if daylight hours become very short, you have to refuse a break. If the frost is too hard, the birds can stay under the snow for a couple of days.

Fun fact: Partridge body temperature is 45 degrees, and it remains that way even in the most severe frosts.

Social structure and reproduction

Photo: Ptarmigan

Photo: Ptarmigan

In spring, males try to lie down females in various ways: they stand in various positions, perform a special flight and scream. You can hear them from afar, and they can talk all day almost without a break. They do it most actively in the morning and late in the evening. The females squawk. Conflicts may arise between males for the best territory, and they fight with great bitterness, sometimes such a fight ends in the death of one of the participants. The identification of pairs continues for quite a long time: while the weather is changeable.

When the heat finally sets in, usually in the second half of April or May, the pairs are finally fixed for the whole season. The female is engaged in the construction of the nest – it's just a small depression. She lines it with branches and leaves to make it softer, it is usually found in bushes, so it is more difficult to notice.

When the nest construction is completed, she lays 4-15 eggs, sometimes even more. The color of the shell is from pale yellow to bright yellow, it often has brown spots, the shape of the eggs is pear-shaped. They need to hatch for three weeks, and all this time the male remains nearby and guards the nest: he is unable to protect against large predators, but he can drive away some birds and rodents. If a person approaches the nest, white partridges do nothing and let him go to the nest itself.

protection for chicks. For two months they stay with their parents, during which time they grow almost to the size of an adult bird, and they can feed themselves from the first days of life. Sexual maturity is reached by the next mating season.

Partridge's natural enemies

Photo: What a grouse looks like

Photo: What a ptarmigan looks like

A lot of different predators can eat a white partridge: almost any of the large ones, if only they can catch it. Therefore, there are many dangers in nature for it, but at the same time, most predators do not have it in their constant diet. That is, they catch it only from time to time, and do not hunt for it, and therefore do not cause much damage to the population.

There are only two animals that regularly prey on the partridge: the gyrfalcon and the arctic fox. The former are especially dangerous, since they cannot be escaped in the air: they fly much better and faster. The partridge can only escape from them in holes in the snow, but in the summer it most often has nowhere to hide at all.

Because gyrfalcons are very effective against partridges, they are even used by people to hunt such birds. However, there are relatively few gyrfalcons in nature, and even though each of them requires a lot of prey for food, they still do not cause much damage to the partridge population. Another thing is foxes. There are many of these predators in the habitats of partridges, and they hunt purposefully, and therefore it is they who have the greatest influence on the population of the species.

Lemmings also occupy an important place in this chain: everything starts with an increase in their numbers, after that there are more foxes hunting them, the number of lemmings is decreasing due to active extermination, arctic foxes switch to partridges, there are also fewer of them, as a result, due to a decrease in the food supply, the number of arctic foxes is already decreasing. Lemmings, and then partridges, actively breed, the cycle begins anew.

For chicks of white partridge, there are more dangers: they can be dragged away by such birds as the silver gull, burgomaster, skua. They also destroy nests and feed on eggs. People are not such a significant enemy for partridges: there are few of them in the habitats of this bird, and although it is hunted, only a small part of the white partridges die because of it.

Population and species status

Photo: Ptarmigan

Photo: Ptarmigan

Partridge is among the species of least concern. They are even industrially hunted, although it is allowed only in the forest-tundra and at the beginning of winter. These restrictions are necessary in order not to undermine the bird's population and prevent the reduction of its range. In other habitats, hunting is also possible, but exclusively for sport and in autumn, the shooting of birds is strictly regulated. Nevertheless, despite the fact that nothing threatens the species so far, the population of ptarmigans is gradually declining, as is their range.

The total number of ptarmigans in Russia is estimated at approximately 6 million – this is the calculated average annual value. The fact is that it can change greatly from year to year, the cycle lasts 4-5 years, and during its course the population can decrease and then increase significantly.

Such a cycle is typical for Russia, for example, in Scandinavia it is a little shorter, and in Newfoundland it can reach 10 years. The key unfavorable factor for the number of partridges is not even fishing or predators, but weather conditions. If the spring is cold, then most partridges may not nest at all. The population density is highest in the hummocky tundra, it can reach up to 300-400, and in some cases up to 600 pairs per hectare. Farther north, it drops at times, up to 30-70 pairs per ha.

In captivity, white partridges are practically not bred, as they show a low survival rate in enclosures. The introduction is also not carried out: even if you release partridges in those places that were previously inhabited by them, they simply scatter in different directions and do not form flocks, which has a bad effect on survival.

Interesting fact: Researchers attribute the reduction in the range of birds in Eurasia to warming. Previously, when the cold lasted until mid-spring, and then it warmed up sharply, it was easier for partridges to survive them, since less energy is spent on biting frozen twigs. When you have to bite off the thawed branches, while the snow cover does not disappear for a long time, it is much more difficult for partridges.

The white partridge is one of those birds that are very interesting for their lifestyle – unlike most they chose to adapt to very harsh conditions in which it is difficult to survive. Thanks to this, they have become an important link in the tundra ecosystem, without which it would be much more difficult for some predators to find food for themselves.

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