The Rock Ptarmigan
While most other birds migrate south in the early fall, the Rock Ptarmigan (Lagopus Mutus) is truly an arctic bird, living in Nunavut throughout the year. Called Aqiggiq in Inuktitut, the rock ptarmigan is found throughout the circumpolar world, earning a place in the art, folklore and diet of indigenous peoples.
Distinct from most other birds with its three variations of plumage instead of the usual two, the rock ptarmigan faces its biggest challenge to survival in the winter, when snow and wind conditions make good and shelter hard to find.
Camouflaged by its white winter plumage, the rock ptarmigan uses its long black claws to scratch through the snow to reach buried vegetation such as the low-lying purple saxifrage. Other characteristic features of the bird mirror human adaptations to the harsh Arctic surroundings. A black stripe from the corner of the bill and across the eyes has been compared to a pair of Inuit snow goggles, a unique invention to prevent snow blindness in the glare of the Arctic spring. A rock ptarmigan's feet are feathered right down to the toes, keeping it warm, and acting as a pair of feathery snowshoes to prevent the bird from sinking into the snow. And, in the deep of winter, the ptarmigan will use snow as a shelter, burrowing deep to escape the bitter wind and indigenous predators such as the fox and marten. Adaptations such as these have earned the rock ptarmigan its place as an Arctic symbol-and as the official bird of Nunavut.