This page is about the elusive Ruby Mountain Himalayan snowcock (tetraogallus himalayensis). This page contains Field Notes that I have made through the years, Audio from actual Ruby Mountain Snowcock and a list of sightings from fellow bird watchers and hikers through the years.
The Himalayan Snowcock are native to Pakistan and Kashmir. Some Himalayan Snowcock from Pakistan where introduced into the Ruby Mountains between 1963 and 1979 from numerous releases. According to the National Geographic Society Snowcock are 28 inches from the tip of the beak to the tip on the tail feathers. From the mounts I have seen they stand around 14 inches tall.
Snowcock feed on grasses, sedges and forbs that are found on steep rocky slopes and ledges. The photo to the right shows prime Snowcock habitat with very steep terrain and inaccessible ledges. Snowcocks droppings are around 2 inches long and 3/8 inches in diameter. Snowcock tracks measure 3 1/4" long and 2 3/4" wide.
Himalayan Snowcock can be found in many places in the Ruby Mountains. These places include Thomas Peak, Wines Peak, Ruby Dome, Mount Gilbert, Verdi Peak and Old Man on the Mountain. Most of these peaks are over 11,000 feet.
During the summer months Snowcock are usually found toward the top of the ridges. In winter months there have been sightings in the cliffs across from Camp Lamoille at elevations around 8500 feet. Even though these elevations are low the terrain in very steep and treacherous.
Most of the sightings that I hear about are in the Island Lake area. I know of two different sightings in the summer of 2001 above Island Lake. Although snowcock have been seen directly above Island Lake the best area for my money is around Thomas Peak (11,316 ft.) which is to the north of the lake. For more information and locations for sightings check out the Sightings section toward the bottom of this page.
Taken by wildlife photographer Tim Torell September 2009 Click on image to enlarge.
When looking for snowcock make sure you listen. Most of the snowcock that we see we hear first.
Over half the snowcock we see are first seen in the air. This leads to our second note. When snowcock land they usually walk away from the spot where they landed. So when you see where the bird landed spend most of your time spotting around the landing spot.
Snowcock like the ledges in cliffs and very steep slopes as shown in the photo above. These areas supply feed and cover. These ledges may be inaccessible on foot or may be so steep that all the bird has to do to escape is jump and they are air born and gliding away.
Snowcock like the rock pillars found in the middle of some chutes. These rock pillars provide snowcock with a great vantage point and a very easy means of escape.
When spotting for snowcock there are two main areas that I search. Grassy areas on ledges and slopes provide feeding opportunities for snowcock and the edges of cliffs provide a good lookout point for snowcock that are not feeding.
Snowcock are very jumpy. It is very easy to flush snowcock even when they are on the next ridge. Proceed with caution.
If you are hiking to Island Lake to view these birds I recommend getting into position above Island Lake before first light. To make this task easier pack your optics and use hiking sticks for the trek above the lake.
Watch a Video on Snowcock:
Watch a video posted on the American Birding Association site on the catch and release program of the Himalayan Snowcock. This is a priceless video from the Nevada Fish and Game Commission called "The Himalayan Snow Partridge Story". This is a 24:31 minute video that documents the entire transplant process starting in Hunza Pakistan as well as the incubation process in Nevada to the final release in the Ruby Mountains.
Listen to a snowcock:
The Himalayan Snowcock can be noisy birds. They make noise when they feed and it also has an alarm call when it is startled and flies. The snowcock I have seen will make this alarm call most if not the whole time it is flying. Below is the recording of 2 Ruby Mountain Himalayan Snowcock as they glided past.
Photo taken by Bruce Thompson 1st weekend April 04.
I would like to thank all the people that have taken the time to let this site know about their birding experiences in the Ruby Mountains while looking for Snowcock or Rosy Red Finch. I believe it is information like this that can help the next person find the bird they are looking for. Thanks again.
26 August 2016 by Brad Bates and James Alt - We were able to observe a Snowcock in the Island Lake Cirque at 5:45am. We hiked up the Lamoille Canyon, Island Lake trail at 4am and positioned ourselves about 500ft above the lake near a few evergreens for cover and waited for the sun to rise. At about 5:30am we were excited to hear the Snowcocks begin to call from about three locations. With help, from a spotting scope, I was able to locate a Snowcock on-top of the north ridge just before it flew down the slope. After watching it land in the boulder field below the north cliffs, we observed it for several minutes as it hunted around the rocks for things to eat.
3 July 2013 by Bradford Graham - Bradford went up to Island lake trail early for a sunrise start. This is what Bradford had to share with us. "From the lake I walked up to the next plateau where there's a small little marshy area and hunkered down on a large flat rock area. At sunrise I did hear a couple of birds call on & off and they did so for about an hour. I searched in vain but couldn't find them.
My luck would change however around 9:30am when in flew a Golden Eagle! Would it flush a Snowcock? Turns out it flushed 10 birds! They were above the black rock face on the left side. The whole flock flew to the north east with in the rock face in full view until they circled around north end and out of sight. Over all a neat experience.
The day prior I also had a pair of Black Rosy-Finch on the left side of the black rock face."
30 June 2013 by Ming & Chris Aquila and their group of 16 people with 5 non-birders. They started hiking around 3:45am and arrived at the area above the Island Lake around 5:30am; They heard the start of the vocalization at 6:30am and got a visual around 7:15am. They saw 3 snowcock and heard 1 more.
Chris and Ming had this to say about their sighting. " We got to enjoy the Snowcocks feeding on a small grass patch below the tip of the cliff for about 15 minutes. The process from the moment of hearing the vocalization to locate the birds was painful and frustrating - it took us about 45 minutes to locate the birds. Even with scopes, the birds are hard to spot as they really look like a rock if they donít move."
27 April 2012 by Steve Noseworthy & Sam Brayshaw - About 1pm we arrived at the top of the Lamoille Canyon road to find the parking lot covered with snow. We decided to hike the Island lake trail anyway in hopes of finding a snowcock at the lake. After a couple of hours of trudging through the snow, sometimes 2í deep, we arrived at the lake. We spent the next 2 hours scanning the cliffs around the lake and hiking to the cliffs northwest of the lake. We did not find any wildlife.
The next morning we decided to try the area east of the Glacier View overlook. We arrived about 6am and hiked up to the first ledge and listened and scanned the grassy ledges for snowcock. We did find mountain goats in abundance and heard some snowcock in the distance. We decided to head uphill (very steep) and follow the calls we were hearing. We were a little south of the route on Kyleís map, probably around 800-1000ft above the road. We had excellent although far away views (through a scope) of a singe Himalayan Snowcock for about 20 min.
16 August 2011 by Ralph Browning - Only one Himalayan Snowcock was observed. I went up Island Lake Trail in mid-day to scout the trail for a possible walk up around 4 a.m. the next morning. Fortunately, the early morning trip was not required.
It was around 1 p.m. on 16 August. I was at the flat where people camp above the Island lake where I first heard the elk-like call. About 30 minutes later I spotted a falcon sitting near what some call the tetons (left of the black cliff). I did not see it fly, but believe it was a Peregrine (it seemed too dark below for a Prairie). Looking down to rest my eyes for a second, I then looked back at the falcon, but it was gone. A few minutes later I heard cackling (not the elk-like call), and then saw a snowcock flying from somewhere between the right teton and the left side of the black cliff, make an arc toward my position and back to behind the right side of the black cliff. I waited at least 30 minutes for any other birds, but nothing.
I met a man who told me he regularly "catches dinner" at Island Lake and that he almost always observes snowcock during the evening. A person at the U.S. Forest Service in Elko also said the snowcock is regularly found in the evening. All this seems contrary to advice that sunrise is the time, which requires tripping up the trail in the near darkness of very early morning.
18 June 2011 by Kyle Rambo - A group of us wildlife biologists and birders had just finished a DoD Partners in Flight meeting the week before at the Peregrine Fundís World Center for Birds of Prey and drove down to the Ruby Mountains in search of Himalayan Snowcock and other mountain birds and wildlife. Our party consisted of Kyle Rambo and a party of six others. We parked at the Glacier Overlook at 0600 and began climbing toward the cliffs across the road. We had just made up the first steep roadside pitch, onto a terrace of sorts, and were splitting into two parties. One following your yellow route to the left and one following your orange route to the right.
At about 0645, a bird started calling from the cliffs down canyon to the left. We all had excellent looks at a single bird, silhouetted against the skyline, on the lowest outcropping of rock (even lower than the outcropping with the "window hole" in it). He stayed perched there for 5-10 minutes, leaving once for a minute or so and then returning. That was to be the only sighting at that location. We heard one or two birds calling there, but couldnít locate them in our spotting scopes.
Later that morning (maybe 11:00 - 11:30 AM), we drove up to the Island Lake trailhead in search of Black Rosy-finch (without any luck). But, half of our party did see another Snowcock launch itself from the highest rim of the steepest cliff face to the left at the parking circle. It dove down, then banked left, landed on a slope, and began feeding its way uphill again.
Here is a copy of the map with the routes that Kyle refered to above. Route Map.
19 November 2010 by Larry Spradlin - Larry saw a snowcock in Lamoille Canyon when he was watching some mountain goats. The snowcock and mountain goats were in the same area. Larry said he saw the snowcock move out of the way for a goat. This is actually the second time Larry has seen snowcock and mountain goats in close proximity in the last two years.
13 August 2010 by Chuck & Lillian Almdale - Chuck and Lillian headed up to Island Lake and were lucky enough to find a snowcock and relay their experience back to us. Here is what they had to report. Our motel room in Elko was not available mid-morning, so we drove another hour to the top of Lamoille Canyon to check the trail, and decided to hike up despite our late start. We started hiking at 11am, and arrived at Island Lake about 12:30. The trail was not steep, but numerous rocks can trip and we're both over 60.
On advice from birder Martin Myers heading downhill, we left the trail just before it crossed the outlet stream near the lake edge. We headed off to the right with the lake to our left, and angled up the hill in the general direction of the large blackened cliff. About 12:45 and approx. 50 ft. vertical above the lake, a helicopter approached the cliff, which I closely watched (thru Canon 10x40 stabilized binos) hoping it would flush a Snowcock, which it did.
I followed its flight upcliff until it landed. Unfortunately it soon walked behind a rock and vanished. We climbed another 150 ft vertical towards the cliff. Around 2pm a Mountain Goat wandering near the top edge of the black cliff and caused the Snowcock to move, permitting us to view it in our telescope, which we did for about 20 minutes as it slowly walked, seeing it from all sides.
It never called. I think it was the same bird in both sightings, as the locations were close to each other. Without stabilizing binos, seeing this bird walking at more than 1/2 mile distance would have been impossible for me. No Black Rosy-Finches were seen or heard. Snow patches were small and few.
31 July 2010 by Chris Conard - Chris was kind enough to share his siting via email. This is what he had to say. "I tried my luck on Saturday, 7/31/10. At 6:35 pm I was able to pick out a snowcock (with a scope) on the ridge midway between the highest portion of what I assume to be Thomas Peak and two rocky spires. It was silhouetted on the ridge, looking around, and even scratched the side of its head before going out of view. For the next 30 seconds, I could hear some cackling calls from the area where the snowcock had been.
I set up my scope on the flat area about 200 feet above Island Lake. The mosquitoes were really bad, but it was worth it. I have twice climbed to the upper cirque just below the cliffs and have seen Black Rosy-Finch (in 2005), pikas and a long-tailed weasel, but had missed the snowcock. On the 2005 trip (also 7/31), my wife and I heard the snowcocks call, but didn't see them. Maybe since I wasn't as high on the mountain this time, I had a better angle to see the single bird on the ridgeline."
12-15 February 2010 by Patrick Grewe and friend - Patrick had this to say about his winter Ruby Crest Trail adventure. "A friend and I skied the Ruby Crest Trail, with some variation and exploration this past weekend Feb 12-15th. And we spotted quite a few Himalayan snowcock. The first one we saw was on Green Mountain, and then another in the vicinity of Tipton Peak. On the third day we saw a flock of six birds near the summit of Wine Peak."
15 February 2010 by Larry Spradlin & Bill Homan - We where hiking up a chute across the road from Camp Lamoille. Larry spotted something moving on a ledge above us. Once we arrived at that ledge we found some snowcock tracks in the snow. Later as I was checking the ledges below two snowcock flew off and glided around the ledge. A very short time later another snowcock was spotted gliding off the same ledge.
7 November 2009 by Ryan O'Donnel - Ryan found some snowcock above Island Lake. Here is what he had to say. "I and three friends hiked up to Island Lake in the early afternoon yesterday, 7 Nov 2009. Using a spotting scope we were able to find a group of three Snowcocks on an exposed rock outcropping very near the ridgeline above the lake. Later we saw a lone bird even further upslope, which may have been part of the original three or may have been a fourth bird. We also saw a flock of Black Rosy-Finches, another target bird, fly by the snowcocks while the snowcocks were in the scope."
29 August 09 by Tim Torell - Tim arrived at the base of the cliffs above Island lake at 7: am. As he hiked up the last steep incline 2 snow cock flew from the west ridge and landed at the base of the cliffs in the upper bowl. Tim also said "Spent most of the day at the upper level of the canyon. While there 9 more snow cocks flew over head as singles or in groups of 2 or 3.
14 July 09 by Jake Ward - Jake and some friends saw some snowcock by Echo Lake. Here is what he had to say. "When we were heading out of the lake (through the pass to the south) we heard snowcocks back to the east and looked over just in time to catch about a half dozen of them flying across the canyon. They flew straight into a cliff and we glassed them for a minute or two before they went out of sight."
28-29 June 09 by Joan Rankin & Thor Manson of Canada - On the 28th they hiked up the Island Lake Trail arriving at the Lake about 7:00 a.m. After scanning the ridges and peaks with the scope, they scrambled up the scree to the meadow area above Island Lake. At about 9:00 a.m. Joan Rankin got a close up look of a single bird which walked right by her as she sat motionless on a boulder. Efforts to relocate the bird were not successful.
The next day, following a different strategy, they arrived at Island lake around 5:00 a.m. After setting up the scope by the lake, Thor immediately saw 3 snowcocks, beautifully illuminated by the rising sun on the top of what Thor thought to be Thomas Peak. Thor observed them with a 60 power scope for about 5 minutes. After which the snowcock flew down the hill. In flight Thor noticed that there had been 6 birds in the area.
14 March 09 by Bill Homan - I was in the same area as the day before looking for mountain goats when I saw a snowcock fly off a ledge and land farther out the chute we where in. After a little spotting I found it sitting on the edge of a cliff. I watched him for some time before he walked out of sight. Photos of this sighting are posted on the Snowcock Photo Page.
13 March 09 by Larry Spradlin and Bill Homan - We were looking for mountain goats and heard a snowcock calling. Larry found him right away on the edge of a cliff.Snowcock Photo Page.
14 June 08 by Bruce Thompson - Bruce was up on Thomas Peak and saw 6 snowcock on the east face of Thomas Peak. Bruce also reported that he saw a lot of sign on Thomas.
31 May 08 by Bruce Thompson - Bruce saw 5 Snowcock up on Ricco Peak. Ricco is the peak to the left of the Power House Picnic Area as you enter the canyon.
18 May 08 by Larry Spradlin - Larry and I were hiking up a steep chute in Lamoille Canyon when we heard some snowcock. These snowcock sounded pretty load but we could not see them. A short time later Larry caught a glimpse of a snowcock flying out of the chute we were in.
6 April 08 by Larry Spradlin and Bill Homan -Larry and I started our hike in the worst conditions. The snow was falling and visibility was around 50 feet at times. Once we arrived close to where we wanted to be and the clouds broke we saw half a dozen mountains goats on the other side of the chute we were in. I noticed there were two more mountain goats at the head of our chute.
We watched these goats for a short time and I started to shoot video with my camera to see how it would turn out. I then noticed that the two goats at the head of the chute ran to our right. Very shortly after that 2 snowcock took off from the around the area these 2 goats where.
I help the camera steady and hoped for the best. Both snowcock flew right thru picture. Larry and I just saw two snowcock and we had them on video and had recorded their alarm call as they were flying past.
All of the bad weather, slippery footing, and very steep terrain were all worth it. I posted a frame from the video on the Snowcock Photo Page and the audio is located toward the top of this page as well as on the Snowcock Photo Page.
23 March 08 by Larry Spradlin and Bill Homan - Larry and I where hiking up a chute in Lamoille Canyon. We had hiked up to around 8100 ft. when two snowcock made a loud commotion and glided over our head. After we hiked up another 200 feet or so we spotted a snowcock on the ground walking along a ledge. Later on in the day Larry and I were in another chute when we heard a few snowcock making noise and Larry spotted them land on the other side of the chute. We watched these three birds for some time as they worked their way up the side of the hill.
9 March 08 by Larry Spradlin, Andrew and Bill Homan - We saw two snowcock across from Camp Lamoille at around 8000 feet as they flew from a cliff above us. We were heading up the hill across from Camp Lamoille. We heard the birds in the cliffs all morning. Then once we were at around 8000 feet we saw some crows and a hawk flying around a cliff a little above us. Shortly after the two snowcock flew from the cliff and went right past us.
29 March 07 by Russ Namitz & Eric Clough - Russ and Eric saw two snowcock in the cliffs across the road from Camp Lamoille.
20 Feb 05 by Bill Homan - I was in Lamoille Canyon directly across the road from the turn off to the Scout Camp. The Snowcock where around 8,000 feet and in a stand of mountain mahoganies. I saw about six on the ground before they scurried off. There where another handful that flew from some rocks overhead.
25 June 04 by Bruce Thompson - Bruce was able to get another good photo of a snowcock above Griswold Lake.
1st weekend April 04 by Bruce Thompson - Bruce said "I was able to see 4 snowcock up close as they were courting the females." He saw these birds where across from the Scout Camp in Lamoille Canyon. There are two photos on the left of this page that were taken by Bruce on this day.
21 Mar 2004 by Larry Spradlin & Bill Homan - We where in Lamoille Canyon a mile past the turn off to the Scout Camp. We hiked up from the road to around 8200ft. when two snowcock flew over our head. A few minutes later we flushed another one. It was around 8500ft. that we saw a lone snowcock sitting on a rock.
6 July 2003 by Larry Spradlin & Bill Homan - We saw one group of eight Snowcock between Thomas Peak and Lamoille Canyon and another group of around 8-10 on the back side of Thomas Peak. The second group were feeding at around 11,000 ft. when we saw them.
3 July 2003 by Bruce Thompson - Bruce said he saw 20+ Snowcock around the Thomas Peak area.
16 March 2003 by Larry Spradlin & Bill Homan - Across the road from the Scout Camp. We were around 9100 feet when we saw two birds fly overhead. We had a great view as they glided over. They were good size birds and were close enough to see the white markings on their neck. Later we spotted two more land a ridge nearby ridge. I don't know if they were the same two birds or not. After a little bit of hide and seek we were able to watch one of the birds for around 45 minutes, give or take. We also found some tracks on this hike.
August 2002 by Hank Vanderpol of Canada - Hank said he located 8 Snowcock above Island Lake. Hank started hiking at 3am so that he was in the prime viewing spot by the time daylight started. He hiked 1/4 mile up the slope past Island Lake to almost the last group of trees when he heard the birds. Through the scope Hank was able to see a movement, and as it got lighter, could see 8 birds on small ledges about 300 feet from the rim. It was his 4th trip to Island Lake.
25 August 2001 by Bill & Andrew Homan - Directly behind and above Island Lake.
Summer 2001 by Larry Spradlin - Above Island Lake on the Thomas Peak Side.