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Fauna Series No. 3







Faunal Position

Life Zones







Fauna of the National Parks — No. 3
Birds and Mammals of Mount McKinley National Park
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Anas platyrhynchos platyrhynchos [LINNAEUS]

GENERAL APPEARANCE.—Our best known river duck. It is commonly known as "green-head"; the green head and white ring on the neck of the adult male are familiar to all. Length, 23 inches.

IDENTIFICATION.—The green head, the white ring on the neck, and recurved upper tail coverts of the male, as well as the tail which shows a general whiteness when birds of either sex are in flight, are good distinguishing marks.

DISTRIBUTION.—It is distributed throughout most of North America, breeding in Alaska, except in the far northern portion. It is a summer resident on larger ponds at lower elevations in McKinley Park.

HABITS.—The mallard is one of the common breeding ducks at Wonder Lake, where it was observed by us and where it has been noted to breed regularly. Mr. and Mrs. John E. Anderson reported that in 1927 the first flock of mallards observed, consisting of both males and females, arrived at 9 a. m. on May 10. In 1929, the first pair of mallards observed arrived at 8 p. m. on May 21. In 1928, the first fall migrants of this species, comprising a flock of about 50 birds, arrived at Wonder Lake at 3 p. m. on September 10. On September 1-6, 22, 24, 28, and 29, mallards continued to arrive from the north. On October 6, the last mallard ducks left Wonder Lake on their southern migration.

Sheldon (1930, p. 400) reports that in 1907-8 about 300 mallards wintered along a 3-mile open stretch of the Toklat River (about 20 miles outside Mount McKinley National Park) and that they fed on dead salmon and salmon eggs.

Chaulelasmus streperus [LINNAEUS]

GENERAL APPEARANCE.—A streaked gray duck, somewhat smaller than a mallard, white below, without much detail. The female has much the color pattern of a female mallard but the barring is finer. Length, 19.5 inches.

IDENTIFICATION.—The large white color-patch or speculum and chestnut red upper wing coverts are distinctive in both sexes.

DISTRIBUTION.—It breeds in Alaska and in northern Canada, and in the McKinley district, near Wonder Lake.

HABITS.—This is one of the rarer species of ducks breeding in the McKinley region. Mr. and Mrs. John E. Anderson reported it as breeding regularly at Wonder Lake, where we found a pair on July 19, 1926.

Mareca americana [GMELIN]

GENERAL APPEARANCE.—A chunky river duck of medium size. The adult males have a distinctive white cap. The females are broadly speckled, but both sexes show broad white patches on the fore part of the wing. Length, 19 inches.

IDENTIFICATION.—The white cap of the male and the white wing patches, which are especially notable in flight, are the best identification marks of this species.

DISTRIBUTION.—The baldpate breeds throughout the greater portion of Alaska. It was noted by us at Wonder Lake and on adjacent ponds between Wonder Lake and McKinley River.

HABITS.—This is one of the breeding ducks of the region, and breeding records should be watched for by people who visit the park during the summer months.

Dafila acuta tzitzihoa [VIEILLOT]

GENERAL APPEARANCE.—A large, graceful duck with a slender neck. The male has long projecting black central tail feathers, also a white stripe extending from the breast up either side of the neck. The female and juvenile males are similar to the female mallard but are of more slender build and the speculum on the wing is bronze. Length, 28 inches.

IDENTIFICATION.—The extreme slender build, "sprig" or "pin" tail of the adult male and the slender form and bronze speculum of juvenile males and females are diagnostic.

DISTRIBUTION.—It breeds throughout the northern portion of North America. I saw adults and young of this species at Wonder Lake on July 16, 1926, and again in 1932.

HABITS.—This species breeds on the larger ponds adjacent to the McKinley River. It has been found breeding at Wonder Lake and is said by residents to breed at various suitable localities in the park.

Mr. and Mrs. John E. Anderson reported the first spring arrival of a pair of pintails at Wonder Lake on May 20, 1929, at 3 p. m. On October 4, 1928, the same observers reported that 25 pintails on their southern migration rested on Wonder Lake for 2 hours.

Nettion carolinense [GMELIN]

GENERAL APPEARANCE.—The smallest duck found in the McKinley region. The male has a broad green stripe extending through the eye and along the side of the head. Both sexes have a brilliant green patch (speculum) on the wing. Length, 14.5 inches.

IDENTIFICATION.—The small size will distinguish this duck from all others that are known to occur in the McKinley region except the bufflehead. The lack of any white patch on the wing quickly distinguishes the teal from the bufflehead.

DISTRIBUTION.—It breeds across the continent, and is common through out the Northwest. It is found breeding at Wonder Lake, and near Copper Mountain adjacent to Mount McKinley.

HABITS.—A family consisting of a mother and eight downy young was seen not far from the eastern boundary of the park on July 2, 1926. Another similar family was observed in a small beaver pond near Copper Mountain on July 19, 1926. The first spring arrivals were recorded at Wonder Lake on May 17, 1927, and were last seen there in the fall on September 24, 1928. The species is not abundant, but the vicinities named are regular breeding grounds for them.

Nyroca marila [LINNAEUS]

GENERAL APPEARANCE.—Scaup or bluebills are chunky ducks of medium size. The adult males at a distance appear black for the forward third of the body and white for the remainder. The adult females are white-bellied, brown ducks, with a conspicuous white spot on either side of the head at the base of the bill. Length, 18.5 inches.

IDENTIFICATION.—The best distinguishing mark between the greater and lesser scaup duck is found in the inner primaries, the outer webs of which are white in marila. This white area in the central portion of the forward part of the wing is lacking in affinis. The white spot at the base of the bill appears, on the average, to be larger in female marila than in affinis and the nail on the upper mandible is also larger and heavier in manila.

DISTRIBUTION.—The greater scaup breeds across the northern portion of North America in both Alaska and Canada. In McKinley Park all of the breeding bluebills that we found east of Sable Pass proved to be affinis and those that we saw breeding at Wonder Lake in the northwestern part of the park proved to be marila. Although we watched closely, no evidence of interbreeding was found, yet the two species were noted breeding within 50 miles of each other.

HABITS.—During August I found several families of greater Scaup ducks in a series of small lakes and ponds in the foothills about Wonder Lake (fig. 19). These families consisted of adult females and small young birds from one-sixth to one-third grown. No adult males were to be found with the groups. On August 18, 1932, I collected an adult female and one of her brood of six downy young at Wonder Lake where several broods were present along the grassy margins of the southern part of the lake. These downy young were too small to have traveled over land from other smaller ponds in the region and probably had been hatched there.

This species proved to be one of the commoner regular breeding ducks of the northern portion of Mount McKinley National Park.

alpine pond with Alaska Range in background
Figure 19.—Two broods of greater scaup duck were found in this alpine lake. In the background lies the Alaska Range, Mount Brooks showing above the clouds to the left.
Photograph taken August 17, 1932, Wonder Lake. W. L. D. No. 2597.

Nyroca affinis [EYTON]

GENERAL APPEARANCE.—A compactly built diving duck of medium size. Male scaups show a great deal of contrast in the color of the body, the forward half appearing black and the remainder, except the tail, white. Females are of a uniform dark brown color above with conspicuous white spots at either side of the base of the bill. Length, 1-6.5 inches.

IDENTIFICATION.—The lesser scaup male has a purplish instead of greenish reflection on the head found in the greater scaup, but this is difficult to distinguish except in a good light and at relatively close range. The most distinctive character between the two scaups in both sexes appears to be the color of the outer web of the inner primaries, this being white in the greater scaup and dark in the lesser scaup.

DISTRIBUTION.—It breeds in northern Canada and Alaska. It was encountered by us in the McKinley region on the Nenana and Sanctuary Rivers.

HABITS.—On June 13, 1926, at a lake near Healy Station on the Alaska Railroad, Mr. Wright observed a flock of 11 bluebills. On June 16, in a small lake about a quarter of a mile in length, near the Sanctuary River, we found 4 females and 1 adult male scaup resting and preening on a warm gravel beach. The male was taken for a specimen (J. D. No. 8790) and was found to be in full breeding vigor with testes three-fourths of an inch in length. It is our belief that these birds were nesting.

On June 14, 1932, a trio—a drake and two female lesser scaup ducks—was located in a small lake near the mouth of Igloo Creek. Courtship was then still in progress, and on June 23, when I again visited this lake, a family of six downy ducklings was swimming about with their mother near a protective fringe of grass. They disappeared and effectively hid in this grass when warned of our approach by their parent (fig. 5). On July 9, 1932, the ducklings were large enough to shift for themselves. An adult breeding female collected and preserved on that date has the small narrow "nail" on the upper mandible, and other characteristics of affinis.

Less than 50 miles away, at Wonder Lake, breeding females and downy young of marila were observed and collected on August 18, 1932. It would seem from my experience that both marila and affinis breed there, but that affinis is decidedly the earlier breeder of the two scaups in this region.

Charitonetta albeola [LINNAEUS]

GENERAL APPEARANCE.—A diminutive duck, almost as small as a teal. The male is white beneath and around the base of the neck. The head and throat are black. He has a triangular puffy white patch on the side of the head behind and below the eye which extends completely across the hind neck. The female is blackish above and on the head, and white beneath, with a small triangular white patch behind the eye. The juvenile is similar to the female but the cheek mark is not as distinct. Length, 14.7 inches.

IDENFIFICATION.—The small size and the white patch on the cheek behind instead of in front of the eye, together with the white patch on the wing, distinguish this species from all other ducks of the region.

DISTRIBUTION.—It breeds over much of the northern portions of Canada and central Alaska and was found by us in the McKinley region on Savage River. It also breeds at Wonder Lake.

HABITS.—On July 27, 1926, at Fish Creek which is a tributary of Savage River, Wright observed two female buffleheads sailing downstream with their respective families of six and four young. Wright observed that one of the anxious mother buffleheads treaded water some 20 feet below a patch of overhanging willows that concealed her offspring. She coached them from the side line with anxious calls until he retired a few feet. Then the little fleet scurried forth to join its admiral in the downstream advance. Close observation failed to reveal the presence of any adult male buffleheads after the young were hatched, and it is our belief that the drakes leave the nesting ground by the time the young are out of the shell. Where the food supply is meager, such a withdrawal leaves the entire food supply to the mothers and their downy young who need it most.

Clangula hyemalis [LINNAEUS]

GENERAL APPEARANCE.—A medium-sized, chunky duck, with contrasting plumage of black above and white below. The male has long central tail feathers like the male pintail. In summer the top of the head and the basal portion of the neck are white with a contrasting dark area behind the eye. The female is obscurely colored, with a general "burnt" color. It has a narrow whitish area which extends as a stripe behind and around the eye. Neither sex in any plumage has a speculum or white patch on the wing. Length, 21 inches.

IDENTIFICATION.—The chunky build distinguishes the male old-squaw from the male pintail, which is the only other duck in the region that has long central tail feathers. The female may be identified by her chunky build and the absence of any white patch on the wing. The call note, "Ahr-har-lek", is distinctive.

DISTRIBUTION.—It breeds on the tundra plains across northern North America, and was observed by us in the McKinley region near the Sanctuary and Savage Rivers.

HABITS.—On June 16, 1926, four mated pairs of old-squaw ducks were found inhabiting a small lake near the Sanctuary River. The males were not quite in full summer plumage and their call note, "Ahr-har-lek", was a little rusty and cut short at the end. On June 24, five old-squaws were seen by Wright on a little lake near Savage River. Nests were reported. A specimen (no. 50,555 in the Museum of Vertebrate Zoology) was collected October 17, 1926, by John E. Anderson at Wonder Lake. The earliest spring arrival noted was at 2 p. m., May 23, 1929, when three pairs of old-squaw ducks arrived at Wonder Lake. A family of eight ducks of this species that were hatched and grew up at Wonder Lake were last seen in the fall on October 6, 1928.

Histrionicus histrionicus pacificus [BROOKS]

GENERAL APPEARANCE.— A stocky duck of medium size and general dark coloration. The gaudily colored male, with its rich cinnamon under-parts and bluish upper parts streaked with oddly placed bars of white, cannot be confused with any other duck. The female lacks any wing spot and is likely to be confused only with the female old-squaw. Length, 17 inches.

IDENTIFICATION.—The white crescent bar in front of the eye and on the side of the head, together with a white stripe across the neck and breast, distinguish the male. The female may be distinguished from the female old-squaw by dark instead of light underparts and flanks.

DISTRIBUTION.—It breeds on the northern Atlantic and Pacific coasts and in the interior of British Columbia. It was found by us along most of the glacial streams that flow out on the north side of the main Alaskan Range.

HABITS.—It is commonly encountered along the gravel bars of Savage River near the headquarters of the Mount McKinley Tourist & Transportation Co. (fig. 12). On May 22, 1926, at 2,800 feet elevation, I found a pair of harlequin ducks sunning themselves on a gravel bar under a warm, south-facing bank on Savage River. The brownish female always took wing first and led the male in flight. When alarmed these ducks flew upstream until they came to the first riffle, where they would alight and begin to feed by diving into the swift water, searching for living aquatic animal life under the smooth round stones that lined the river bed. Like the wandering tattlers, the harlequin ducks frequently and effectively escaped our notice while we passed, by crouching, motionless, in shallow water or on dark slate-colored gravel bars.

On May 28, 1926, I watched a pair of these ducks as they floated down stream. They usually dived together and reappeared from 20 to 50 yards below the point where they had gone down. Although I walked on down the stream at an average pace, the ducks outdistanced me. They disappeared down the stream and were out of sight in less than 5 minutes.

On June 2, a mated pair and two males in pursuit of another female were noted. By June 18, it became obvious that the female of the mated pair was incubating a set of eggs, for we saw her only occasionally, probably when she came off to feed, in the early morning or late evening. During the middle of the day the male harlequin hid out in the shady riffles resting or feeding. A male harlequin (J. D. no. 8,763) collected June 11, was in breeding condition with enlarged testes. Although the harlequin ducks were rather common, and though we spent many hours searching for their nests, they were so well secreted and the females so difficult to flush off these nests that we never succeeded in finding a single nest.

Melanitta deglandi [BONAPARTE]

GENERAL APPEARANCE.—A large, dark, chunky sea duck, with a large white patch on the wing. Length, 22 inches.

IDENTIFICATION.—Birds of either sex may be recognized in any plumage by their large, dark, heavily built body and the large white patch on the wing.

DISTRIBUTION.—It breeds across the northern portion of North America. It has been observed at Wonder Lake.

HABITS.—Our record is based upon specimens obtained by Mr. and Mrs. John E. Anderson at Wonder Lake on October 17, 1926. One of these, which was preserved as a flat study skin, is now no. 50,556 in the bird collections of the Museum of Vertebrate Zoology of the University of California.

Melanitta perspicillata [LINNAEUS]

GENERAL APPEARANCE.—A large, heavily built sea duck. The males are solid black except for a triangular white patch on the forehead and another on the back of the head and neck. The bill of the male surf scoter is highly-colored and swollen. The female is a uniform light brown with light patches on the cheeks below a dark cap. Length, 19 inches.

IDENTIFICATION.—Male surf scoters may easily be distinguished by the triangular white patches on the forehead and back of the head which give them their common name of "skunk-heads." The female is similar to the female American scoter but has more pronounced white cheek patches and the feathering extends farther down the top of the bill.

DISTRIBUTION.—It breeds across the northern portion of the continent. It was observed by us at Wonder Lake, Igloo Creek, and Copper Mountain.

HABITS.—At Wonder Lake, on July 19, 1926, from 50 to 75 surf scoters and their young were observed by us. On July 13, 1926, on the tundra near Muldrow Glacier, nine males and two females, all adult, were watched as they fed in a small pond. On August 18, 1932, I saw broods of six, seven, and eight downy young at Wonder Lake, where the first spring migrants arrived on June 11, 1927. This species is a regular breeder in the McKinley region.

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