Ornithologists at Cornell University in Ithaca, NY, having precious little to do in 1934, hatched – or rather engineered the hatching of, since they didn’t actually sit on the eggs themselves or do much of anything other than whisper words of encouragement to those actually sitting on the eggs – the very first ptarmigans in captivity. Ornithologists and students of game birds throughout the country – and possibly the world – held glasses on high and stood and cheered this bold step in quasi-motherhood. These folks had been increasingly interested in experiments in hand-rearing and introducing game birds to new areas, for reasons that remain unclear.
Known to their devotees in the bird world as Lagopus leucurus, the hatchlings also went by the name White-tailed Ptarmigan or Eskimo Chicken. They came from two and a half cartons of ptarmigan eggs “collected” by a Doctor (conspiracy theorists take note) Alien, of Cornell’s Department of Ornithology on Canada’s Hudson Bay. They were then
smuggled transported to Ithaca where they were put under unsuspecting and very confused bantams. These foster mothers broke several of the eggs while trying to figure out what they were. Nevertheless several hatched, leaving the mothers wondering if they had truly given birth to these strange little creatures, even though the Mysterious Doctor Alien had read the “Ugly Duckling” to them several times. One small step for ptarmigans, one giant leap for aviankind.