Family Pheasants, Partridges, Turkeys, Grouse (Phasianidae)

Least Concern

Rock Ptarmigan (Lagopus muta)


French: Lagopède alpin German: Alpenschneehuhn Spanish: Lagópodo alpino

Tetrao mutus


, 1781,



Original description often erroneously dated to 1776#R. Complex internal taxonomy, a result largely of complicated moults. Many races vary only slightly in colour and pattern of summer plumage, and are sometimes lumped in a variety of ways. Proposed race barguzinensis (NE L Baikal) appears undiagnosable. Study of Aleutian Is and parts of Alaska and Siberia revealed three major phylogenetic lineages, two endemic to Aleutians; molecular variance in Aleutian populations indicated significant genetic structuring and low estimates of gene flow despite small inter-island distances; genetic divergence among lineages was concordant with distribution of plumage types among races#R. Another study, focused on five insular populations in Aleutian–Commander archipelago and two mainland Alaskan populations, revealed four distinct populations which appear to be entirely isolated and correspond closely to recognized subspecies (the most geographically isolated ones have lowest genetic diversity)#R. Race saturata should perhaps instead be called dispar#R, but validity of latter name disputed#R. Has possibly hybridized with L. lagopus in Sweden#R. Thirty-one subspecies recognized.

Subspecies and Distribution
  • L. m. hyperborea Sundevall, 1845 – Svalbard, Franz Josef Land and Bear I.
  • L. m. muta (Montin, 1781) – Norway, N Sweden, N Finland and Kola Peninsula.
  • L. m. millaisi E. J. O. Hartert, 1923 – Scotland.
  • L. m. pyrenaica E. J. O. Hartert, 1921 – C & E Pyrenees.
  • L. m. helvetica (Thienemann, 1829) – Alps from Savoie (France) to C Austria.
  • L. m. komensis Serebrovski, 1929 – N Urals.
  • L. m. pleskei Serebrovski, 1926 – N Siberia from Taimyr Peninsula E to Chukotskiy Peninsula.
  • L. m. macrorhyncha Serebrovski, 1926 – Tarbagatai Mts.
  • L. m. nadezdae Serebrovski, 1926 – mountains of S Siberia and Mongolia (Altai, Sayan, Khangai and others).
  • L. m. transbaicalica Serebrovski, 1926 – SE Siberia from L Baikal E to Sea of Okhotsk.
  • L. m. krascheninnikowi Potapov, 1985 – Kamchatka Peninsula.
  • L. m. gerasimovi Red’kin, 2005 – Karaginskiy I, off NE Kamchatka Peninsula.
  • L. m. ridgwayi Stejneger, 1884 – Commander Is.
  • L. m. kurilensis Nagamichi Kuroda, 1924 – Kuril Is.
  • L. m. japonica A. H. Clark, 1907 – C Honshu (Japan).
  • L. m. evermanni Elliot, 1896 – Attu I and Agattu I (W Aleutian Is).
  • L. m. townsendi Elliot, 1896 – Kiska I and Little Kiska I (W Aleutian Is).
  • L. m. gabrielsoni Murie, 1944 – Little Sitkin, Rats Is and Amchitka (W Aleutian Is).
  • L. m. sanfordi Bent, 1912 – Tanaga I and Kanaga I (WC Aleutian Is).
  • L. m. chamberlaini A. H. Clark, 1907 – Adak I (WC Aleutian Is).
  • L. m. atkhensis Turner, 1882 – Atka I (C Aleutian Is).
  • L. m. yunaskensis Gabrielson & Lincoln, 1951 – Yunaska I (EC Aleutian Is).
  • L. m. nelsoni Stejneger, 1884 – Unimak, Unalaska and Amaknak Is (E Aleutian Is).
  • L. m. dixoni Grinnell, 1909 – Glacier Bay islands and adjacent mainland (SE Alaska) to Alexander Archipelago and extreme W Canada (NW British Columbia).
  • L. m. kelloggae Grinnell, 1910 – Alaska (except SE) and N Yukon.
  • L. m. rupestris (J. F. Gmelin, 1789) – N Canada from Melville I and Ellesmere I to C British Columbia, S Mackenzie, Southampton I, N Quebec and Labrador.
  • L. m. macruros Schiøler, 1925 – coasts of N & E Greenland.
  • L. m. saturata Salomonsen, 1950 – coastal NW Greenland.
  • L. m. reinhardi (C. L. Brehm, 1824) – coastal SW & SE Greenland.
  • L. m. welchi Brewster, 1885 – Newfoundland.
  • L. m. islandorum (Faber, 1822) – Iceland.
  • In 1992, tiny population of apparently undescribed race discovered in Pamir-Alai Mts (Tajikistan)#R#R#R.

    Descriptive notes

    33–40 cm; male 448–880 g; female 406–700 g; in Japan, male body mass decreases gradually in late Apr, at start of breeding season, but returns to normal... read more


    During display at communal leks, males take flight and emit a series of grating guttural barks,... read more


    Rocky tundra with fairly sparse vegetation, or alpine summits; in summer, in Alaska, is more common... read more

    Food and feeding

    Winter food mainly taken from ground; varies greatly between localities, as well as depending on snow conditions, but typically differs on... read more


    Lays mostly Jun, from late May in Scotland, from mid Jun in Spitsbergen, but varies strongly (by up to c. 1 month) according to prevailing... read more


    Most populations, including mountain ones, make only very limited movements, largely altitudinal... read more

    Status and conservation

    Not globally threatened (Least Concern). Total population in North America estimated to vary between 2,100,000 and 8,400,000 birds in spring and between 3,700,000 and 24,300,... read more

    Recommended citation

    de Juana, E., Kirwan, G.M. & Garcia, E.F.J. (2019). Rock Ptarmigan (Lagopus muta). In: del Hoyo, J., Elliott, A., Sargatal, J., Christie, D.A. & de Juana, E. (eds.). Handbook of the Birds of the World Alive. Lynx Edicions, Barcelona. (retrieved from on 16 December 2019).