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Fauna Series No. 3







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Fauna of the National Parks — No. 3
Birds and Mammals of Mount McKinley National Park
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Colymbus grisegena holboelli [REINHARDT]

GENERAL APPEARANCE.—A large diving bird commonly known as "hell diver." The feet are lobed but not fully webbed. The top of the head and the back of neck of the adults in summer is jet black. The cheeks are white. The neck is a rich reddish-chestnut. Length, 19 inches.

IDENTIFICATION.—The large size, reddish neck, and white cheeks contrasting with the dark area on the top of the head, are good identification marks.

DISTRIBUTION.—It breeds from northwestern Alaska and Siberia south to Washington and North Dakota. It is reported as occurring regularly in the park.

HABITS.—This species is said to inhabit the larger ponds and lakes in the Wonder Lake region, but it occurs sparingly and has not been noted in any numbers in the region. A specimen, flat skin, no. 50554, Museum of Vertebrate Zoology, University of California, was collected at Wonder Lake on October 17, 1926, by John and Paula Anderson. The first spring arrival at Wonder Lake was noted by Mr. and Mrs. Anderson on June 3, 1927.

Colymbus auritus [LINNAEUS]

GENERAL APPEARANCE.—A small diving bird about the size of a teal, with a slender neck and ear tufts. In summer this grebe has a rich chestnut neck and flanks with a broad connecting chestnut band along the side of the body. The top of the head, throat, and back are black. The ear tufts of feathers, behind the eyes, are ocher color, with a rusty stripe extending through and above the eye to the base of the bill, which is dark colored like the throat. Length, 13.5 inches.

IDENTIFICATION.—The large ruff, red neck, and light ocher ear tufts, as well as the slender narrow bill are all good field characters for this bird.

DISTRIBUTION.—The horned grebe is a northern species that breeds across the continent, from the northern Canadian provinces westward to Mount McKinley National Park, where it nests in small secluded grass-rimmed ponds.

Figure 17.—This grass-rimmed pond was the breeding ground of the horned grebe. A species not previously known to nest within several hundred miles of this region.
Photograph taken July 9, 1932, Igloo Creek. W. L. D. No. 2602.

HABITS.—This species was first noted near Igloo Creek, where I found a lone bird in a little grass-rimmed pond on June 14, 1932 (fig. 17). It was in company with a pair of lesser scaup ducks that nested there. On July 9, 1932, a family of horned grebes was found in another grassy pond on the old trail near Igloo ranger cabin. Two 24-hour-old downy young were colored as follows: back, head, black streaked with narrow lines of white; belly, white; sides of head, neck, black with distinct white streaks, The nest in which these young grebes had been hatched was found to consist of a mass of dead sedge, moss, and other aquatic vegetation that had been piled up by the parent birds on an islet in a quiet grass-grown corner of the pond. This nest (fig. 18) still contained one infertile egg.

floating nest with grebe egg
Figure 18.—Floating nest containing one egg of the horned grebe.
Photograph taken July 9, 1932, Igloo Creek. W. L. D. No. 2601.

Each of the young streaked grebes hid by itself in the thick grass that grew all around the margin of this pond. They were watched over by both parents. Two pairs of short-billed gulls patrolled the pond daily, but the young grebes were more than a match for the gulls. They would dive like a flash whenever a gull or magpie flew over the nest pond.

Later it was found that in the region about Wonder Lake many of the smaller grass-rimmed ponds sheltered a breeding pair of these grebes. Since this locality is several hundred miles west of the known breeding range of the species, a breeding pair of adults and two downy young were preserved as specimens.

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