[Charles Eldermire, BirdCams Project Leader, Cornell Lab of Ornithology] The first time I heard a Willow ptarmigan call it was early on in the season, most of the tundra was still covered by snow. There was almost no other birds in the environment at that time, it was still early spring, we were struggling to put our tents up through frozen ground. All of a sudden I heard this guttural, weird, chickadee sound, and honestly I had no idea what it was. The way that the Willow ptarmigan males will posture and strut around, both kind of as they’re making that weird call and between calls, it’s almost like they’re looking around waiting for the next challenger. Listening for that next challenger from just over the next tussock. When you’re walking around, looking for entertainment, there’s nothing better than a Willow ptarmigan to give you a laugh. You hear these funny sounds coming out of their bills and it is absolutely hilarious. [Audio Recordings: Gerrit Vyn; Photographs: Gerrit Vyn]

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There are few birds whose vocalizations are as comical as those of the Willow Ptarmigan. The Cornell Lab’s Charles Eldermire describes the experience of hearing firsthand this arctic grouse make its territorial boundaries known.