Vancouver Island white-tailed ptarmigan

The Vancouver Island White-tailed Ptarmigan is a small grouse with distinctive white tail and wings. While White-tailed Ptarmigan are found across North America and are not considered to be particularly threatened, the endemic subspecies on Vancouver Island is on the BC provincial Blue List. It is considered to be vulnerable to human and natural disturbance, given its small, isolated populations in the alpine.

The project includes summer field work and winter helicopter surveys to relocate the radio-collared birds. Click here for some pretty ptarmigan pictures.

Forest Renewal BC sponsored the first 3 years of this project. The goals of the project are:

  • to establish distribution and abundance of the subspecies
  • to determine subspecies description through the use of morphological measurements, and with the aid of genetic markers
  • to clarify the relationship between White-tailed Ptarmigan and subalpine forest and recreational use.

Vancouver Island white-tailed ptarmigan study sites, 1995-2006

Public Submissions

As part of the project, we are collecting information on Vancouver Island ptarmigan sightings from hikers, naturalists and professionals. Currently, the distribution of ptarmigan on the Island is not well known which makes conservation and land use planning difficult, so our main goal in this part of the project is to produce an accurate map of sightings, and to determine where people and ptarmigan most often interact.

Click here to see our map as of February 2007.

Our early records come from published “exploration” trips in the early 20th Century, museum specimens collected during those trips, and personal interviews. We now receive reports through the mail and email. Our download page contains a complete compilation of publicly submitted and historic records of white-tailed ptarmigan on Vancouver Island and a 2-page information sheet on our revised distribution of the white-tailed ptarmigan on Vancouver Island.

If you wish to contribute your own sightings, there is a downloadable form on our downloads page which can be filled out and sent to us, or see the sighting record card produced by the Strathcona Wilderness Institute, which is distributed at trailheads throughout Strathcona Park. We are also happy to accept “free-hand” reports. The minimum information we are asking for is: Date, Number of birds, Location, Habitat, and Observer name and contact details. Some things to keep in mind:

  • Be sure the date is clear. Write out month name, and include the year.
  • Estimate the ages/sizes of the birds (e.g. 1 adult and 4 half-grown chicks).
  • Be as precise as possible with the location, so we can put an accurate dot on our map. The perfect location includes a general location (e.g. “Marble Meadows”) and GPS coordinates with datum (e.g. “NAD83”) and error. Not everybody can be this fussy though, so we’re happy with NTS map grid references and good descriptions too (e.g. “100 metres west of Albert Edward peak”)
  • We realize not everybody is a botanist, so we don’t expect detailed descriptions of the birds’ habitat. A general description of the area is great (e.g. “dry alpine ridge”, “subalpine meadow”, “in the trees”, etc.)
  • Don’t worry about giving us all your personal details. We only need to contact you to send a thank you note, and possibly ask questions about your sighting. An email address is fine.
  • Please don’t be offended if we question your ability to tell the difference between a grouse and a ptarmigan. We receive reports from people with all levels of birding skills, so we have to be cautious.

We also appreciate any comments you may make about behaviour (e.g. What they were eating), weather, plumage colour, predators around, etc.

Submit your records by email  to:

or mailing to:

Kathy Martin
3041 – 2424 Main Mall
Vancouver, BC
V6T 1Z4