Barry Kent MacKayArt by Barry Kent MacKay
Art and Photo Presentation

In this section are copies of original works of art. All of them are dedicated to helping us live according to unconditional love and compassion, which is the foundation of our peaceful means of bringing true and lasting peace to all of God's creatures, whether they are human beings or other animals.

White-tailed Ptarmigan (Lagopus leucura)

(Artwork - 148)
White-tailed Ptarmigan (Lagopus leucura)

This is the smallest member of a group of birds known as grouse. Of the three species of ptarmigan, it is the only one endemic to North America, found only in the western mountains of the U.S. and Canada, mostly above the timberline, in the alpine zone, the only species to normally exclusively inhabit that ecological region year-round. It is non-migratory. It has been introduced to various other parts of the western U.S., (where it may or may not have previously occurred naturally) but of course, being dependent on the alpine zone (altitudes above the treeline characterized by tundra-like conditions) at the southern end of its range it is at risk from global climate change which is reducing the overall extent of this ecozone, and even in more central and northern parts of its range it will almost certainly experience contraction of available habitat.

Ptarmigan are noted for having cryptic plumage, all mottled in shades of brown, grey, rust, black and white in summer, to camouflage them against tundra and other ground habitat, but changing to white in winter, making them hard to see in snow. In Europe what we call the Willow Ptarmigan in North America, is known as the Red Grouse (L. l. scotica) a distinct subspecies, much darker and redder in colour than the Willow Ptarmigan in North America, and lacking the white winter plumage. Some authorities think it should be classified as a separate species, an idea with which I concur.

The third species of ptarmigan is what North Americans call the Rock Ptarmigan (L. muta) which is very similar in appearance to the North American Willow Ptarmigan, but in the U.K. it is known simply as the Ptarmigan, and is found across the higher latitudes of the northern hemisphere. In winter the Rock, and, whether white or red, the Willow Ptarmigans both retain black tail feathers while, year-round those of the White-tailed are, as its name suggests, white.

The generic name, “Lagopus”, derives from Ancient Greek name, “lagos” (λαγως), meaning hare, plus “pous” (πους), meaning foot, a reference to the feet being fully feathered down to the toe-tips, thus resembling the furry foot of a hare (rabbit). The species name, leucura, comes from the Latinization of the Greek word, leukos, which means white, and oura, for tail. The “p” in ptarmigan is silent. The word itself derives from the 16th century Scottish-Gaelic word, tàrmachan.

These small grouse eat vegetation, including leaves, flowers, berries, seeds, pine needles and lichen, having special digestive ability to digest a winter diet high in cellulose. Chicks eat small insects.

They nest in shallow impressions amid rocks and vegetation, out of the wind. The chicks are “precocial”, meaning active once they have hatched and dried, but stay close to their mother, who calls to them if separated. I’ve shown a pair, male in front, with five of their chicks. They can have as many as eight.
The painting is approximately life-size, in acrylics on compressed hardboard, 20” by 16”.

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Barry describes himself as a Canadian artist/writer/naturalist.
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