Willow Ptarmigan
(Lagopus lagopus)


Picture of bird
© Charles M. Francis, CWS
For additional photos and vocalizations, visit Dendroica. (Link opens in a new window.)

The Willow Ptarmigan is a widespread and abundant resident of subalpine, subarctic, and arctic shrub habitats. Much of its range lies north of regularly surveyed areas, with the result that monitoring data are sparse and not wholly reliable. However, available results from the Christmas Bird Count suggest that the population may have undergone a moderate decrease since about 1970, although the reliability of this assessment is considered to be low.


Main designations for the species
DesignationStatusDateSubspecies, population
IUCN (Global)Least concern2018 
Wild Species (Canada)Secure2015 

Population status

Geographic area or populationPopulation change relative to ~1970ReliabilityStatus in relation to goal
CanadaModerate DecreaseLowBelow Acceptable Level

Population estimate

Geographic area or populationPopulation estimate
Canada5,000,000 - 50,000,000 adults

Distribution maps


Migration strategy, occurrence


Responsibility for conservation

Geographic areaResponsibility based on % of global population

General nesting period in Canada

Nesting period starts between mid-May and late May and ends between late July and early August, depending on the region. Before or after this period, the probability of an active nest is lower.

Conservation and management

Despite a possible decrease in population, there are few major conservation concerns for this species. Willow Ptarmigan are harvested by sport- and subsistence-hunters, but much of the range is sparsely populated and the species has high rates of reproduction (Bergerud and Huxter 1969, Hannon et al. 1998). Climate change scenarios predict an increase in the abundance of shrub habitats (ACIA 2005), which may benefit the species. However, recent population declines in some ptarmigan populations are likely due to a change in the predator-prey interactions as a result of climate change (Henden et al. 2017).


Bird conservation region strategies

Environment and Climate Change Canada and partners have developed Bird Conservation Region Strategies in each of Canada’s Bird Conservation Regions (BCRs). In these strategies, selected species are identified as priorities for one or more of the following reasons:

  • conservation concerns (i.e., species vulnerable due to population size, distribution, population trend, abundance, or threats)
  • stewardship responsibilities (i.e., species that typify the regional avifauna or have a large proportion of their range or population in the sub-region)
  • management concerns (i.e., species that require ongoing management because of their socio-economic importance as game species, or because of their impacts on other species or habitats)
  • other concerns (i.e., species deemed a priority by regional experts for other reasons than those listed above or because they are listed as species at risk or concern at the provincial level)

Select any of the sub-regions below to view the BCR strategy for additional details.

BCRs, marine biogeographic units, and sub-regions in which the species is listed as a priority
RegionSub-region and priority type