BETHEL, Alaska (AP) — Hunters in the Yukon-Kuskokwim Delta area in Alaska have been reporting an abundance of ptarmigan this year.
A biologist from the Alaska Department of Fish and Game, Phillip Perry, said that the department does not track the population of the medium-sized game bird. But based on his own experience and what people have told him, ptarmigan sightings have been much more common this year, KYUK-AM reported Wednesday.
“People are telling me, ‘Wow, there’s a bunch around this year, I’m doing really well,’” Perry said.
The department’s small game program coordinator, Rick Merizon, said officials had planned to conduct a survey on ptarmigan population numbers and movements last year, but the study was postponed to 2022 due to the coronavirus pandemic.
One area hunter, Daniel Nelson, said the number of ptarmigan had declined in recent years but that he has regularly hunted an average of 12 ptarmigan per hunting trip this year.
A larger amount of snow this winter may have played a role in a potential population increase, the KYUK-AM reported.
Perry said ptarmigan snow roost, which means they use deep snow to insulate themselves from colder temperatures. He added that when there is less snow on the ground, the white birds are more visible and more likely to be eaten by predators.
Merizon offered a different theory. He said a bigger factor would have been last summer’s warm and dry climate. He said those conditions allowed more chicks to survive to adulthood.
Area residents such as Maxine Gray from Kasigluk said they have been eating the birds more this year.
“I love it,” Gray said. “My grandma made it all the time. It’s just something we grew up on. And it’s, you know, it makes me think of spring. I like to dry it. It seems to be the favorite. It’s chewy, it’s got a distinct flavor. A little more gamier than dried moose, and it’s really good with seal oil.”