Spot the birdy

One of the difficulties of living in an open mountain habitat is that there are very few places to hide from predators. One strategy to combat this is camouflage, and the master of that in the Highlands of Scotland is the ptarmigan. The female has the most astonishing camouflage, sitting on a clutch of eggs in the middle of the picture, it's almost impossible to spot her. They are vulnerable to many predators including golden eagles, foxes and even the occasional pioneering pine marten that occasionally venture this far up the mountain. In common with other members of the grouse family, ptarmigan can also slow their heart and breathing rate down, which means that ground predators like foxes simply can't smell them. Ptarmigans will only pump their heart up and get going at the very last minute when they have to fly away from danger. The mottled brown is a great camouflage during the summer months, but they are also carefully adapted to the same area during winter when the mountains are covered in snow. They moult the brown feathers into almost pure white, blending in with the snow perfectly. They have fully feathered feet to aid insulation, and can kick away the snow to get to the vegetation and food underneath.

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