Alpine galliformes

Species perfectly adapted to the alpine environment

Ptarmigan at the Pera de Fener | APAM Archive, E. Piacenza

The Park is home to three species of Alpine Galliformes: the ptarmigan (Lagopus mutus) and the black grouse (Lyrurus tetrix), belonging to the Tetraonidae family, and the rock partridge (Alectoris graeca), belonging to the Phaseanidae family.

The black grouse mainly frequents the sparse larch forests and twisted shrubs bordering the alpine pastures, at an altitude of between 1600 and 2300 meters. Like many Tetraonids, it shows its presence on the "leks", where in spring males gather at dawn to try their hand at parades and fights, in order to attract females and reproduce. In the Park, this species has been monitored for several years both with spring counts on the leks, and with summer counts using dogs, to verify reproductive success of the species in some sample areas. From the data collected, the species seems to be in moderate decrease, which could be contrasted locally with interventions of habitat requalification.

The ptarmigan finds its ideal habitat between 2000 and 3000 metres above sea level, with maximum densities in the Park around 2400 metres, on the north-facing slopes, dominated by sparse herbaceous and shrubby vegetation. It is considered a "glacial relict", specifically an endemic subspecies of the Arctic white partridge (Lagopus m. mutus), which remained isolated in the Alps at the end of the last ice age. The legs and toes are completely covered with feathers making them suitable for walking in the snow and isolating from the frozen ground, hence the scientific name "lagopus", which means "hare's foot". In June, the male emits the typical croaking song, audible at dawn from great distances. In the southern Piedmontese Alps some populations are now considered at risk of extinction, as they are isolated from each other and threatened by the increase in average temperature and the consequent displacement of suitable habitats to higher altitudes.

The rock partridge, a species endemic to the Alps, is part of a group of Phasianidae adapted to the semi-arid steppes, so it frequents the sunny slopes with herbaceous and shrubby vegetation where it feeds, interspersed with rocky outcrops where it takes refuge. In the Park it can be found above the tree line, in particular on south-facing slopes. As with other Galliformes, the chicks are immediately able to follow the mother in search of food. Usually pairs live alone, but already in late summer groups of several individuals form, called "brigades". This species, after a long phase of decline due also to the abandonment of the agricultural activities in the mountains, seems to take advantage of the recent hot and dry summers, while it is limited by the exceptionally snowy winters.