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What Is Alaska’s State Bird? How Was It Decided?

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willow ptarmigan walking in the snow

America’s last frontier is teeming with pristine wildlife and a vast space of unmarked terrain, making it one of the world’s best places to see nature untouched by humanity. Birds in Alaska are plentiful, so there were endless choices for its state bird. Keep reading to find out what choice was made and why, as well as some information about its famous aerial critter! 

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What Is Alaska’s State Bird? 

As you can imagine, it would be pretty hard to pick an official state bird when you have countless options to choose from. Alaska’s state bird is the Willow Ptarmigan, with the scientific name Lagopus lagopus. It is a member of the Phasianidae family. By the way, Ptarmigan is pronounced “tarm-uh-gan,” and the p is silent.  

two Willow Ptarmigan birds
Image By: Sophia Granchinho, Shutterstock

How Was It Decided?  

Alaska is relatively new to America and didn’t become a state until just before 1960, being the 49th and first to be outside the contiguous United States. Just before the time of declaring independence from Russia, Alaska gathered a portion of its schoolchildren to elect what they believed the state bird should be. The final decision came to be the Willow Ptarmigan as the popular vote, and it fits perfectly with the state’s value for wildlife preservation.

flock of willow ptarmigan in the snow
Image By: Troutnut, Shutterstock

What Is a Willow Ptarmigan? 

The Willow Ptarmigan is a game bird and is considered an Arctic grouse because they reside within most countries that border the Arctic Circle. That includes Russia, Finland, Sweden, Norway, Canada, and of course, the United States.

They live in the high tundra where trees aren’t common, so they have to nest on the ground and huddle together to shelter from the harsh environment. A Willow Ptarmigan’s diet consists mainly of leaves from shrubs and other low-lying vegetation.  

As several other game birds do, this species shifts its colors according to its surroundings when the seasons change. During the winter, they attain a white plumage to blend in with the snow, but in the summer, their body turns brown to camouflage with the ground. They have a mix of brown and white in between the winter and summer, which displays some gorgeous patterns.

Willow Ptarmigans have a thick layer of feathers on their legs for warmth in addition to wide feet that help grip the ice or snow. You also can’t forget their distinct red mark above the eye, either—not many Arctic creatures have this color at all!


Although the Willow Ptarmigan is the official bird of America’s last frontier, the mosquito is often thought to be the representative of this state due to its prominence and mischief in outdoor activities. However, the Arctic tundra is what differentiates this state from the others across the US, and the Willow has a place in Alaskan hearts.

If you want to witness one for yourself, you’ll need to cross the Canadian border and head north. Be careful, though. It’s one of the wildest places on Earth! 

Featured Image Credit By Troutnut, Shutterstock

About the Author Robert Sparks

Robert’s obsession with all things optical started early in life, when his optician father would bring home prototypes for Robert to play with. Nowadays, Robert is dedicated to helping others find the right optics for their needs. His hobbies include astronomy, astrophysics, and model building. Originally from Newark, NJ, he resides in Santa Fe, New Mexico, where the nighttime skies are filled with glittering stars.