Ptarmigan under pressure in the Alps


Ptarmigan is a high-altitude species at particular risk from the effects of climate change. As the tree line advances upslope, the amount of available bare rocky habitat shrinks. The Swiss Ornithological Institute (SOI) says that the species is now under mounting pressure from the construction of winter sports facilities and associated disturbance.

Recent warmer winters have led to developers pushing for the construction of winter sports infrastructure at higher altitudes in Switzerland, which would lead to high levels of recreational disturbance in the important areas for Ptarmigan and other mountain birds.

Ptarmigan is seldom seen near ski slopes in the Alps (Tony Davison).

Switzerland is home to 40% of the Central European population of Ptarmigan. SOI says there is a risk that Ptarmigan could disappear from the Alps in the long term if sports developments go ahead unchecked.

Since the 1990s, the Swiss population of Ptarmigan has declined by around a third, with dwindling habitat availability leading to populations becoming isolated. The population seems to have stabilised in recent years, but SOI says this will not last if high-altitude ski slopes become the norm.

SOI advises visitors to the Alps to stay on paths, keep dogs on a lead and avoid snow-free areas, where birds may be feeding.