The willow ptarmigan is an arctic grouse and shaped similar to a chicken. It was designated as the Alaska state bird in 1955. A cool thing about these birds is that they change colors, from brown in summer to white in winter, for camouflage from their predators. They also have feathers on their legs and feet for protection from cold and to help them move across snow. These birds spend most of their time on the ground, but will explode into rapid flight if startled. Also, a ptarmigan will fly directly into a snow bank to sleep under the snow. They fly into their beds because walking in would leave tracks for predators to follow.
The willow ptarmigan is the only grouse in the world where the males are regularly involved in parental care. The parents remain together from the beginning of the breeding season until their chicks are independent. The males help protect the families against predators and even raise the young if the female dies.
The male birds in these photos successfully diverted our attention so that the females and chicks could escape in the tall tundra grass and willow thicket!