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Attu and Its Island-hopping Rock Ptarmigan

These birds blend right in!
© Kristinn Einarsson View Large

Attu, at the western end of Alaska’s Aleutian chain, is home to the Rock Ptarmigan. Although grouse are not long-distance fliers, Rock Ptarmigans can cross open water, so they occur from one end of the Aleutians to the other. They are supremely adapted for high latitudes, with thick feathers, each with two shafts. During winter, even their toes become feathered. They ride out blizzards by burrowing deeply into fresh powder snow and roosting there. When spring finally arrives, the snow-white male will flutter into the air, then glide to earth while calling loudly. He fans his black tail in spectacular display before the female. And a new year begins!

Full Transcript

Transcript: 

BirdNote®

Attu and its Island-hopping Rock Ptarmigan

Written by Dennis Paulson

This is BirdNote!
     [Wind sounds and waves crashing on a shore]
    Attu lies at the western end of Alaska’s Aleutian chain, almost in Russia. Subarctic winds and North Pacific waves buffet this exposed island. With such an inhospitable climate, its expanses of tundra support just a few resident birds.
    [Rock Ptarmigan chuck and rattle calls]
    One of these is the Rock Ptarmigan, a beautiful grouse found on rocky hillsides all across the far north. Like other grouse, it is camouflaged – mottled brown in summer but white in winter. The white is relieved by a black bill and tail, spots that seem disconnected as the bird moves through the winter snowscape.
    [Rock Ptarmigan calls]
    Grouse are not long-distance fliers, but Rock Ptarmigans can cross open water, so they occur from one end of the Aleutians to the other. They are supremely adapted for high latitudes, with thick feathers, each with two shafts. During winter, even their toes become feathered. They ride out blizzards by burrowing deeply into fresh powder snow and roosting there.
    [Blizzard]
    Later in spring, a snow-white male will flutter into the air, then glide to earth while calling loudly. He fans his black tail in spectacular display before the female.
    [Male Rock Ptarmigan display flight calls]
    The joke about Attu is that it’s not the end of the world, but you can see it from there. Yet, to the hardy Rock Ptarmigan, it’s home, even in winter.
                                                    ###
Sounds of provided by The Macaulay Library of Natural Sounds at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Ithaca, New York. Rock Ptarmigan chuck and rattle calls 62349 recorded by W.W.H. Gunn; Rock Ptarmigan calls 62342 recorded by D. Dahmer; Male Rock Ptarmigan display flight calls 50022 recorded by L.J. Peyton.
Producer: John Kessler
Executive Producer: Chris Peterson
© 2013 Tune In to Nature.org          January 2013  Narrator: Mary McCann

ID# ROCPTA-01-2013-01-03    ROCPTA-01       

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