The willow ptarmigan has an appropriate name. Not only are willows important nesting habitat, they are also the bird’s most important food source. The leaves of willow shrubs often outrank any other item eaten in summer. In winter the buds, twigs, and catkins of willows provide four-fifths or more of their food. Because moose and snowshoe hare also rely on willows for sustenance, it is fortunate that these shrubs are so widespread in Alaska, and are able to rapidly recover from severe browsing.
As with the other ptarmigan species, willow ptarmigan
feed on berries in the fall and also eat overwintered
berries in the spring.