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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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Passerculus sandwichensis alaudinus [BONAPARTE]

GENERAL APPEARANCE.—A small grass-inhabiting sparrow. It is striped above with brown and ashy, and below with sharp brown streaks on the breast and flanks and in some instances on the throat. It has a distinct yellow stripe on the side of the head in front of the eye above, as well as on the bend of the wing. Length, 5.6 inches.

IDENTIFICATION.—The small size, streaked breast, and yellow line over the eye are the best field marks of this species.

DISTRIBUTION.—It breeds from the Arctic coast of Alaska and Mackenzie south to British Columbia and Alberta. It is found in the McKinley region in the open, grassy meadows above timber.

HABITS.—The Western Savannah sparrow is a retiring bird. It keeps well hidden in the grass and may therefore be easily overlooked unless especially sought.

On June 12, 1932, I saw several of these birds and collected one specimen high up on a snow-covered meadow on Double Mountain. On Savage River, on July 7, 1926, I collected a bobtailed young Savannah sparrow just out of the nest. At the time this fledgling bird was thought to be a young tree sparrow because a pair of adult tree sparrows were flying distractedly about and making every effort to lead me away. No adult Savannah sparrows could be found in the locality where the young bird was found during the entire summer, and it was only when detailed comparisons were made later at the museum that the correct identification was established.

This species was found on July 19, 1926, near Muldrow Glacier at which time a single individual was encountered. It is not an abundant bird in the McKinley region but it breeds there regularly in small numbers.

Junco hyemalis hyemalis [LINNAEUS]

GENERAL APPEARANCE.—The head and neck of the male of this well-known species is black, and that of the female is dark slate-colored like the bird's back. The under parts are white, and the bill is flesh-colored. The tail is dark except for the outer tail feathers which show white when the bird takes flight. Length, 6.2 inches.

IDENTIFICATION.—The white outer tail feathers which are so conspicuous in flight and the dark gray or black head and neck of the birds are the two best field marks.

DISTRIBUTION.—The slate-colored junco breeds from Point Barrow, Alaska, northern Mackenzie, Manitoba, and Quebec south to Mount McKinley, British Columbia, Minnesota, Michigan, Maine, and in the mountains of Massachusetts, New York, and Pennsylvania. It is found in the timbered sections throughout the McKinley region.

HABITS.—Charles Sheldon found this bird to be a common summer resident at Toklat where the first spring arrival was noted and a male was collected on April 30, 1908.

In 1932 juncos were numerous at headquarters when we arrived on May 15; a few were seen nearly every day throughout the summer. On June 10, 1926, an incubating female was collected in the spruce woods at 2,800 feet, on Savage River. At this same location on July 25, 1926, many streaked young of the year were seen. These birds were still in the family circle, accompanied by their parents. On the same date many of the adult birds were bobtailed, having lost their tail feathers by molt. The flight of such birds was very uneven and was usually only from one bush to another nearby bush.

By September 1, 1932, the juncos in the region were abundant since they breed regularly in the spruce woods of Mount McKinley National Park.

Spizella arborea ochracea [BREWSTER]

GENERAL APPEARANCE.—This bird is slightly smaller than a song sparrow but is redder above. The crown is brownish red; the breast is grayish with a single large brown Spot in the center. The upper half of the bill is dark; the lower half is mostly yellow. Length, 6.3 inches.

IDENTIFICATION.—The white wing bars; the brownish-red cap; the ashy-gray throat, and the large dark spot in the center of an evenly colored breast are the best field characters.

DISTRIBUTION.—It breeds from Bering Sea and Point Barrow east to the Anderson River, and south in the mountains to northern British Columbia. It is the commonest passerine bird in the Mount McKinley region where it is abundant at timber line.

HABITS.—Sheldon reports the first spring arrival on April 26, 1908. In 1929 the first tree sparrows reached Wonder Lake on May 6, at 11 a. m., according to the observations of Mr. and Mrs. John E. Anderson.

On June 13, 1926, tree sparrows were flushed from their nests twice, in the tundra at Dry Creek. In each instance there were two recently hatched birds in the nest. These nests were deep pockets sunk in the moss. The depth of each exceeded the diameter, and white feathers were used to line them.

On July 7, at Savage River, numerous tree sparrows just out of the nests were observed. In 28 days spent in intensive field work between May 20 and July 25, 1926, 572 tree sparrows were counted. The daily extremes range from 6 to 50, and the average number of tree sparrows seen daily was 20. In 1932, 68 days spent afield in this same territory, between May 16 and August 31, revealed a total of 152 tree sparrows, the daily extremes being I and 6 with a daily average of about 2. The 1932 population, according to these observations, was only about one-tenth of that of 1926.

Zonotrichia leucophrys gambeli [NUTTALL]

GENERAL APPEARANCE.—A sparrow of medium size with distinct broad black and white stripes on the head of the adults. The young birds have brown and ashy head stripes. The back is striped brown and the hind part of the head and the neck are gray. The throat and the belly are white. Length, 6.7 inches.

IDENTIFICATION.—The Gambel's sparrow is similar to the white-crowned sparrow except that the lore, or area between the eye and the bill, is not black. The white line just above the eye extends forward to the very base of the bill.

DISTRIBUTION.—It breeds from northwestern Alaska and northern Mackenzie south to central Montana and west to the coast mountains of southwestern Alaska and southeastern British Columbia. It is a common bird of wide distribution in the McKinley region.

HABITS.—John and Paula Anderson report the earliest spring arrival of this sparrow at Wonder Lake at 11:30 a.m., on May 4, 1929. Sheldon also reports the first spring arrival at Toklat on May 4, 1908.

During the late season of 1932, I found that Gambel's sparrows were present in goodly numbers at park headquarters when I reached there on May 15. At that date, migration was still in full swing and it continued so for several days.

Sheldon (1930, p. 386) reports finding the nest of a Gambel's sparrow on June 11, 1908. It was found on the lower Toklat River and it contained one fresh egg. Twenty-five miles lower down on the Toklat he found another nest with three young and one egg.

On July 2, 1932, near park headquarters I found a nest containing four eggs in which incubation was about one-third completed. This nest was placed on the ground in a depression under a protecting willow. The nest was composed of weed stems and plant fiber.

Contrasted with the late season of 1932, at Savage River on July 1, 1926, we found bobtailed young Gambel's sparrows just out of the nest. These birds were watched while they were being fed by their parents.

It was my experience both in 1926 and again in 1932 that the Gambel's sparrows breed commonly on the brushy, warmer, lower slopes near the river but that they are relatively scarce in the alder and willow thickets above timber line.

By the first of September, 1932, practically all of the breeding Gambel's and tree sparrows had migrated. In many instances the young birds of the year were the first to leave, but a very few immature birds remained even after the adult birds had left for the south. The first real fall snowstorm seemed to be the signal for their departure.

This species is a regular breeder in the McKinley region. It is almost as numerous as the western tree sparrow.

Zonotrichia coronata [PALLAS]

GENERAL APPEARANCE.—A sparrow slightly larger than Gambel's sparrow but similar to it in general form though duller colored and without the black line behind the eye. The crown patch is bright yellow or gold-colored instead of white. Length, 7 inches.

IDENTIFICATION.—The darker, duller coloration and the yellow instead of white crown patch distinguishes the adult golden-crowned from the Gambel's sparrow in the field.

DISTRIBUTION.—It breeds from Kotzebue Sound to the Shumigan Islands, Alaska Peninsula, and Kodiak Island, and southeast at least to central British Columbia.

HABITS.—Our only record for this species on the north side of the Alaska Range in the McKinley region is based upon Sheldon's record (1930, p. 402) in which he states that this bird was ". . . commonly seen in spring. Arrived, May 26." Although diligently sought for, both in 1926 and 1932, not a single bird of this species could be found by us. No other bird observers in the region, including those who have made observations at Wonder Lake, have seen the species, so we regard it as of rare or irregular occurrence.

Passerella iliaca iliaca [MERREM]

GENERAL APPEARANCE.—A large, robust, reddish sparrow with a short stout bill. The upper parts, particularly the rump and the tail, are a rich rusty-red, about the color of the red fox, from which—because of its color the bird takes its name. The breast and under parts are white, heavily spotted, and streaked with red. Length, 7.2 inches.

IDENTIFICATION.—The rich reddish-brown color and the short stout bill are the two best field characters for this species.

DISTRIBUTION.—It breeds from the tree limit in northwestern Alaska, Mackenzie, Manitoba, northern Ontario, and northern Quebec south to northern Manitoba, Magdalen Islands, and Newfoundland.

HABITS.—The Eastern fox sparrow was found by me in the dense willow thickets near McKinley Park Station on May 16, 1932. In 1908, Sheldon found the fox sparrow to be a common summer resident on the Toklat. The first spring arrival was noted by him on May 4 of that year.

On June 20, 1926, two breeding male fox sparrows were collected at 3,000 feet elevation on Savage River.

This bird is a regular and rather common breeder in the McKinley region.

Melospiza lincolni lincolni [AUDUBON]

GENERAL APPEARANCE.—The Lincoln's sparrow is like a small song sparrow but it is darker in color above and has a distinct buff-colored band across the breast. The breast is marked with fine spots and there is no central blend of spots on the breast. Length, 5.75 inches.

IDENTIFICATION.—The bird's small size, short tail, and buff-colored band across the breast, as well as the lack of any central spot on the breast, distinguishes this sparrow from all other sparrows of the region.

DISTRIBUTION.—It breeds from the Kowak and Yukon Valleys, Alaska, east to Manitoba, Quebec, New Brunswick, and northern New York, and south in the mountains to southern California and northern New Mexico.

HABITS.—Thus far all field work has failed to reveal any positive evidence of the Lincoln's sparrow breeding in the McKinley region. However, it is possible that it may breed there.

This species was first detected in the McKinley area by myself. On August 30, 1932, I collected an adult female at Park Headquarters. No birds of this species had been present at this locality earlier in the summer, so the bird was probably a migrant from farther north.

Calcanius lapponicus alascensis [RIDGWAY]

GENERAL APPEARANCE.—A sparrowlike bird of medium size with a long claw on the hind toe. The male is characterized by its black crown, throat, and markings on the side of the head. The bird has a rich rusty-red patch on the hind part of the neck. The under parts are white with black stripes along the sides and flanks. The back is streaked with brown. In general the color pattern of the females is similar to that of the males but the colors appear softer and much faded. Length, 6.2 inches.

IDENTIFICATION.—The long hind claw and the white under parts, as well as the distinctly streaked sides and flanks, are the best field characters for this species. No other Alaskan bird has the black facial markings and red hind neck markings of the male longspur.

DISTRIBUTION.—It breeds in northern Alaska, from the Pribilof, Aleutian, and Shumigan Islands, cast to the mouth of the Mackenzie River. It is found commonly above timber line in the McKinley region.

HABITS.—The Alaska longspur is the typical passerine bird of the open Arctic tundra. Sheldon noted the earliest spring arrival of this bird on May 12, 1908. On June 16, 1926, on the divide between the Savage and Sanctuary Rivers, we found Alaska longspurs nesting on the barren open tundra at 3,400 feet altitude. Four adult males were noted in full song. In each instance the singer was perched on a stone or tundra tussock. A female was observed carrying craneflies and other insects to her young. She was assisted in the feeding of her offspring by the male bird which also was seen to carry insects in his bill to the young. When we visited this spot again on July 7, 1926, we found the longspurs both adults and young, feeding quietly and keeping out of sight.

On July 10, 1926, we found longspurs common in Polychrome Pass. The day following they were seen high up on the sides of Copper Mountain.

In 1932 I found longspurs to be about as abundant as they had been in 1926. However, the late wet spring made nesting difficult for all the birds that built their nests out in the open on the ground.

I found these birds to be numerous near the summit of Mount Margaret on June 22, 1932. However, due to the unfavorable conditions, relatively few young longspurs were found in 1932.

Plectrophenax nivalis nivalis [LINNAEUS]

GENERAL APPEARANCE.—A large, white, sparrowlike bird. The male has conspicuous black and white plumage. In the breeding season the wing and tail feathers are black contrasting with the white body feathers. Length, 6.88 inches.

IDENTIFICATION.—The striking black and white color pattern of the snow bunting cannot be confused easily with any other bird in the McKinley region.

DISTRIBUTION.—It breeds from Greenland and northern Alaska south to northern Quebec; also in Scandinavia and in northern Scotland. It is found in the high mountain passes and along the snow-clad Alaska Range in the McKinley region.

HABITS.—Charles Sheldon reports that the earliest migrant arrived at Toklat on April 8, at which time a specimen was collected. In 1926 we encountered snow buntings first on June 12. I found a pair of snow buntings feeding along a snowbank at the margin of a snow-field on the summit of the north range at 5,200 feet altitude. There had been no snow buntings present when I visited this locality on May 27. The birds had evidently arrived since that time.

On June 28, 1926, a pair of breeding snow buntings was collected in a rock slide on the divide at the extreme headwaters of Savage River. The flabby bare skin on the abdomen of the female of this pair showed plainly that she was incubating a set of eggs.

While Charles Sheldon regarded this species merely as a migrant, our observations and the specimens we collected show that although it is not common in the McKinley region, it does breed there.

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