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Species perfectly adapted to the alpine environment

Alpine Galliformes

A male black grouse, ready to fight in the lek.

All three species of alpine Galliformes live in the Park: the snow partridge (Lagopus mutus)and black grouse (Tetrao tetrix), belonging to the Tetraonidae family, and the rock partridge (Alectoris graeca), a member of the Phasianidae family.

Black grouse are principally found in the sparse larch woods and stunted bushes on the edges of grassland, at a height between 1600m and 2300m. Like many grouse they display in "leks". Here, in spring, the males gather at dawn to parade and fight, hoping to attract females and mate. This species has been monitored for several years in the Park, both counting them in the leks in spring and conducting a summer census with dogs, to ascertain their breeding success rate in a few sample areas. From our data, it would seem that the species is in gradual decline, which could be countered locally by improving the habitat.

Snow partridges' ideal habitat is between 2000m and 3000m. In the Park the greatest concentrations are found around 2400 metres, on north facing slopes, where there is predominantly patchy grass and scrub vegetation. It is considered a "relict species", more precisely an endemic sub-species of the arctic rock partridge (Lagopus m. mutus), which was isolated on the Alps at the end of the last ice-age. Its feet and claws are completely covered in feathers, good for walkng on snow and insulating them from the cold, this is where they get their scientific name "lagopus" means "hare's foot". In June the males emit a typical grating call at dawn, which can be heard from far away. In the southern Piedmontese Alps some populations are now considered to be at risk of extinction, as they are isolated and threatened by rising temperatures which force suitable habitats even higher.

The rock partridge is an endemic species in the Alps. It is a member of the Phasianidae family that has adapted to semi-arid steppes, so it is commonly found on sunny slopes with grasses and bushes where it feeds, with rocky outcrops where it shelters. In the Park it is found above the tree line, in particular on south facing slopes. Like other Galliformes, the chicks are able to follow their mother in her search for food immediately. Usually, breeding pairs live apart, but from the end of summer, larger groups form called "coveys". This species, after a long period of decline, caused in part by the abandon of traditional agriculture in the mountains, seems to be enjoying the hot, dry summers of late. However it is held in check by the exceptionally heavy snowfalls.


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