|Grouse species in Europe|
|Capercaillie | Black Grouse | Willow Ptarmigan | Rock Ptarmigan | Hazel Grouse|
IUCN 2003 (http://www.redlist.org/): Lower risk (near threatened).
Circumpolar. Arctic, subarctic, and subalpine tundra of North America and northern Eurasia and heather moorland in Britain. In winter, the species may occur both lower in altitude and latitude than the breeding range. The willow ptarmigan has the largest distribution of all grouse species.
Population Size and Trend in Europe
Willow ptarmigan is widespread and common in many parts of its extensive range. Populations fluctuate in numbers, and are in regionally cyclic in 3-4 year cycles. In the Russian tundra, densities often reach 20-30 and up to 60 pairs per km². For Britain, breeding densities may reach a maximum of 115 pairs per km² in areas intensively managed for grouse. Some range contractions have been recorded in parts of Europe (Baltic countries, Belarus).
Habitat and Ecology
The willow ptarmigan inhabits primary Arctic tundra, clearings in boreal forest, forest edge habitats, and subalpine vegetation. Willow ptarmigan prefer moderately moist lowland areas rich in low willows Salix or birches Betula and ericaceous shrubs, mosses, grasses, and herbs, and more rarely use steep slopes, rocky areas, and lichen-rich tundra. In winter, the birds prefer valley bottoms and riparian habitats with dense cover of willows, birches, alder, aspen, or conifers. In some regions, willow ptarmigan use farmland to some degree. Where both species are sympatric, the willow ptarmigan generally occurs at lower elevations and in wetter habitats with denser vegetation than the rock ptarmigan L. mutus.
Hunting and Cultural Importance in Europe
The willow ptarmigan is hunted throughout its range, except for the Baltic countries and Belarus where it is fully protected. At least regionally, it is a game bird of great cultural and economic importance. The willow ptarmigan is the most numerous grouse species in the bag of British, Fennoscandian, and Russian hunters. The habitats of the British subspecies scoticus, the ”red grouse”, are intensively managed to produce high densities for sport hunting.