On-line Book

Book Cover
Fauna Series No. 3







Faunal Position

Life Zones







Fauna of the National Parks — No. 3
Birds and Mammals of Mount McKinley National Park
National Park Service Arrowhead



Perisoreus canadensis fumifrons [RIDGWAY]

GENERAL APPEARANCE.—A plain gray bird with soft fluffy feathers. It is about the size of a robin. The adult has a white forehead, face, and throat. The young birds are darker than the adults and have an almost black head and neck. Length, 13 inches.

IDENTIFICATION.—The best field marks of the species are the uniform gray coloration and soft fluffy plumage. The bold nature of these birds also is characteristic of them.

DISTRIBUTION.—They are distributed throughout the wooded parts of Alaska, except along the coast region east and south of the Alaska Peninsula. They are found in all wooded areas in the McKinley region north of the Alaska Range.

HABITS.—The Alaska jay, sometimes called the moose bird, the camp robber, or the whiskey jack, is one of the avian residents that thrusts itself upon the visitor's attention. Charles Sheldon found these birds to be very tame. They learned to come to his camp for food whenever he called them and ate fearlessly out of his hand.

About March 20, while snow still covers the ground to a depth of 3 or 4 feet, the Alaska jays in the McKinley region commence to sing. Their singing marks the beginning of their nesting activities. The nests are made of sticks and are lined with caribou or mountain sheep hair, and are artfully concealed in the dense tops of spruce trees. These birds, which are tame and confiding at other times, become very shy and secretive at nesting time so that it is difficult to locate them. By the time the park is open to visitors—late in May—the young jays are fully grown and out of the nest. Thus, on May 20, 1926, a pair of Alaska jays and their brood of three bob-tailed young were found in a spruce grove on the Savage River.

On June 1, at Savage River, Wright and I watched a pair of Alaska jays being chased away from camp by a red squirrel. Every time a jay would alight in the top of a spruce tree near camp the squirrel would look up at the bird, select the proper tree, and would run up the tree and jump at the jay, driving him away. This was repeated many times. If the spruce trees were close together the squirrel would jump from one tree to the next. If this was not possible he would go down and run across on the ground climbing the tree the jay was in. After the squirrel had driven the jays away, we saw the former take a bit of food—old, discarded cheese—that he had kept hidden in the crotch of a tree. Then he carried it down the tree and hid it under an old rotten log.

There is considerable competition about the camps among the Alaska jays and red squirrels to see which will get the choicest bits of discarded table scraps.

On May 26, 1926, a robin was found trying to drive a jay away from its nest. Investigation showed that the jay was doing his best to steal the robin's eggs.

In 1932, we found Alaska jays just about as numerous as they were in 1926. They congregate about the camps and cabins more in winter, when food is scarce, than they do in summer. This is a common and very early breeder in the McKinley region.

Pica pica hudsonia [SABINE]

GENERAL APPEARANCE.—A large strikingly contrasted black and white bird with a long black tail. Length, 15 to 20 inches; the tail being more than half the total length.

IDENTIFICATION.—The black and white pattern, long tail, and vociferous nature of the magpie are all good field characters.

DISTRIBUTION.—It is distributed throughout western North America from the Alaska Peninsula and central Yukon south to New Mexico. In the McKinley region this bird is most frequently seen near road camps and cabins.

HABITS.—At the time that Charles Sheldon wintered in the McKinley region (1906-8), magpies were very rare. He reports (1930, p. 401) seeing only one magpie during his entire stay in the McKinley region. This lone bird may well have followed the kills of market hunters into the region. By 1926, 25 magpies were seen during 72 days spent in the McKinley region. In 110 days spent in this same area in 1932, I counted 132 magpies. In 1932, one to several pairs of magpies were found about each road camp and cabin in the park. The increase of magpies in the park is probably due to the increase of human habitations in the area. The refuse piles offer a food supply which helps tide the birds over severe winters when food for them is apt to be scarce.

On June 24, 1926, near the head of Savage River I watched a family of two adults and four nearly grown young magpies hunting ptarmigan chicks. As soon as the willow ptarmigan sighted the dangerous magpie, she gave a warning call but not before the magpie had rushed in and scattered the brood of young ptarmigan, which sought refuge under the clumps of dwarf willows. The magpie would then, fly away apparently leaving the vicinity for good; however, it would sneak quietly back and hide in the willows where it kept close to the ground so that the parent ptarmigan could not see it. The magpie would then stop and listen intently with its head cocked on one side. When the ptarmigan chicks began to "peep" in an effort to locate their parents, the magpie, still keeping hidden, would sneak along near or on the ground until it caught sight of a ptarmigan chick. Instantly the magpie would make a quick short combined run and flight, and picking the young ptarmigan up in its bill would carry the fluttering chick off to the waiting young magpies which quickly devoured it.

One bird in the region seemed to be able to beat off the attacks of the magpie. On May 23, 1926, near the upper end of Savage Canyon I found three magpies that were greatly excited. Presently one of the three flew out of the tree where they were. A militant Northwestern shrike was in vigorous pursuit. This shrike succeeded in driving all three magpies away from its nest one after the other.

Corvux corax principalis [RIDGWAY]

GENERAL APPEARANCE.—A large crowlike bird. It is entirely black and has long pointed wings. Its call is a hoarse "cruck." Usually just a single individual is seen but occasionally the birds are seen in pairs. Length, 22 inches.

IDENTIFICATION.—The large size, wedge-shaped tail, and all black color are good field characters for this bird. There are no crows in the McKinley region.

DISTRIBUTION.—It breeds from northwestern Alaska to northern Greenland and south to Washington, central Minnesota, and Virginia. It is found throughout the McKinley region particularly along the higher ridges and mountain crests.

HABITS.—The raven was formerly quite numerous in the McKinley region, but with the advent of white trappers into the area many of the ravens disappeared. In 1908, Sheldon (1930, p. 271) states: "A possible explanation may be that ravens may have been killed by poisoned baits put out by some of the few men in the Kantishna region." In 1926, we found ravens still scarce in this region but in 1932 they were more plentiful.

NEXT >>>

top of page Top

Last Modified: Thurs, Oct 4 2001 10:00:00 pm PDT

National Park Service's ParkNet Home