White-tailed Ptarmigan
(Lagopus leucura)


Picture of bird
© Alan MacKeigan - License
For additional photos and vocalizations, visit Dendroica. (Link opens in a new window.)

The White-tailed Ptarmigan breeds in high alpine habitats. Its distribution in Canada includes much of British Columbia and southern Yukon, and smaller portions of Alberta and the Northwest Territories. Population trends for the species are available from the Christmas Bird Count, the results of which suggest a large decrease in the continental population relative to early 1970s. However, precision of the trend estimate and coverage of the northern parts of the species' range and habitat are poor. Data are therefore too sparse to determine the species' population status in Canada. Though the species is harvested across much of its North American range, individuals in the northern portion of the range remain largely inaccessible to hunters. It is threatened by climate-induced changes to its high-alpine breeding habitats. This species has been identified as a priority for conservation and/or stewardship in one or more Bird Conservation Region Strategies in Canada.


Main designations for the species
DesignationStatusDateSubspecies, population
IUCN (Global)Least concern2018 
Wild Species (Canada)Secure2015 
Bird Conservation Region StrategyPriority Species2013 

Population status

Geographic area or populationPopulation change relative to ~1970ReliabilityStatus in relation to goal
CanadaData DeficientData DeficientData Deficient

Population estimate

Geographic area or populationPopulation estimate
Canada1,000,000 - 5,000,000 adults

Distribution maps


Migration strategy, occurrence


Responsibility for conservation

Geographic areaResponsibility based on % of global population

Conservation and management

White-tailed Ptarmigan are hunted in Canada (except the Vancouver Island subspecies, L. l. saxatilis). Harvested populations in Colorado have notably altered age structures (Braun and Rogers 1971); it is unclear if this is the case in Canada. The species is also potentially locally affected by roads and development in alpine areas (Martin et al. 2015). Perhaps the most significant future threat is the alteration of high-altitude habitats from a changing climate (Martin and Wiebe 2004, Henden et al. 2017). Climate change has fragmented the species' high altitude habitats through changes in snow cover and distribution of plant communities as a result of an upward-moving treeline (Martin et al. 2015).


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
Northern Pacific RainforestNorthern Pacific Rainforest, sub-region and priority type: Pacific and Yukon -- Other
Northern RockiesNorthern Rockies, sub-region and priority type: Pacific and Yukon -- Stewardship
Northwestern Interior ForestNorthwestern Interior Forest, sub-region and priority type: Pacific and Yukon -- Stewardship