Burping birds

Icelandic ptarmigan in the birch trees of Thórsmörk

female ptarmigan in winter morph in Þórsmörk
Such a beauty – this snow white female was quite unimpressed by me approaching to her

Rjúpa – the Icelandic name for ptarmigans, are one of the few animals we catch sight of here in Þórsmörk these days. As I find the English name quite difficult I quickly learned the Icelandic one and stick to it. These white birds have four moulting colours and right now in the middle of winter they are snow-white, male rjúpas also have a black part around the eyes and a black tale. Which you only will see if these dottled, but lovely birds fly away. They are perfectly adapted to their environment, although winter came late to Iceland and you could easily spot them until November when there was no snow yet. Unfortunately, October was the hunting season – the only time of the year when they are allowed to be hunted. About 30 % of Icelanders had them for Christmas. And as you can imagine, they could be easily detected in mostly brown and green surroundings with their flashy white feathering. Additionally, they are a bit slow and when they realised danger is looming it was more often than not too late for them.

Three ptarmigans in birch trees
Portrait with a Lady – you don’t see anything? Perfect camouflage for the burbing birdies, you see … or maybe not

I like these birds, because they are pretty and funny at the same time. Despite their charming appearance they do these ridiculous noises which always reminds me of hearty burping. If they gather together and somehow talk to each other, they switch to an adorable squeaking. Although they look so smart with their flawless white feathering they are little mucky pups shitting all over the place. They kind of enjoy walking rather than flying as they seem to be pretty poor and lazy flyers. When they walk in the snow it is always amusing as they push snow in front of them like a little snowplough.

Maybe you’re wondering why I am so fond of these unspectacular white birds. It is simple: If you don’t see any other living creature for most of the time, not even ravens or other birds, than it can turn out to be quite some show to have a group of Rjúpas burbing around the area. Especially for an animal loving person like me.

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