A white-tail ptarmigan is checked one last time before being released into the wild.

White-tailed ptarmigan is a species of grouse that lives at or above the highest peaks and ridges of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains. The species is listed as endangered under the New Mexico Wildlife Conservation Act.

That act requires the department to produce recovery plans, develop restoration strategies and maintain viable populations of state-listed species and their habitats with the goal of delisting the species.

The white-tailed ptarmigan is the smallest grouse species. Adults typically measure

12-14 inches in length and weigh approximately one pound. They are distinguishable from other species of grouse by their completely white tail feathers that remain throughout the year.

If you would like to catch a glimpse of one of these majestic birds, you will have to hike up to the alpine ecosystems at or above the tree line.

In the winter, under the right circumstance, they can be found foraging and roosting in riparian areas, meadows or burns at lower elevations.

Breeding for these birds usually begins in late April to early May, depending on snowfall amounts. Both male and female birds are very territorial during the breeding season. Males and females usually inhabit the same territory year after year if both members of the pair return, and breeding pairs usually have overlapping territories.

To supplement New Mexico’s population and help with the recovery efforts, in late September, New Mexico Department of Game and Fish staff released 24 white-tailed ptarmigans in the Pecos Wilderness near Jicarita Peak. The birds were captured in Colorado with the approval of Colorado Parks and Wildlife.

“At the time of release, there were probably fewer than 10 birds in New Mexico,” said John Bulger, terrestrial recovery coordinator for the Department of Game and Fish.

New Mexico State University’s graduate research will monitor the success of the translocation and assess the habitat use of the translocated birds.

Ross Morgan is a spokesman for the New Mexico Department of Game and Fish.

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