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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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Turdus migratorius migratorius [LINNAEUS]

GENERAL APPEARANCE.—The reddish breast and cheerful song of the robin are so well known that a detailed description of this bird is not needed. Young robins have black spots on their breasts. Length, 10 inches.

IDENTIFICATION.—The rollicking song, the reddish breast of the adults and distinct black spots on the breasts of the young robins are diagnostic. In life the Eastern robin may be distinguished from the Western robin by the conspicuous white spots at the tip of the outer tail feathers.

DISTRIBUTION.—It breeds from northwestern Alaska south and east to Kansas, Ohio, and Massachusetts it is found nesting throughout the McKinley region in spruce forests, and even above timber line in low Alpine-Arctic willows.

HABITS.—The robin is one of the first spring arrivals in the McKinley region. Charles Sheldon noted the first robin at Toklat on May 3, 1908. At Wonder Lake on the morning of May 4, 1929, the first robin was seen at 11 o'clock. Upon our arrival in 1926, we found robins common on May 19. In 1932, we found robins present and already building nests on May 15. On May 29, 1926, a robin's nest was found completed and containing four eggs. Other nests containing eggs were found that season as late as June 24. In the spring of 1929, the first young robins were found on June 3; and in 1926, young robins just out of the nest were observed on June 23.

In 1932, nesting robins suffered continually because of the late spring snowstorms. A heavy wet snowfall of 6 inches which fell on June 14 destroyed many sets of eggs. After two unsuccessful attempts at nesting in open willows some of the robins made a third and successful attempt by placing their nests on the ground under overhanging banks. Two robins' nests were thus located under cut banks of the main highway and both succeeded in rearing broods of young late in the season.

Ixoreus naevius meruloides [SWAINSON]

GENERAL APPEARANCE.—A bird of the same build and about the size of a robin, but with a distinct black collar across the breast which is deep orange instead of brick red as in the robin. The varied thrush has a reddish eyebrow line and two bars across the wing both of which characters are absent in the true robin. Length, 10 inches.

IDENTIFICATION.—The wing bars, eyebrow line, and particularly the black bar across the orange breast are the outstanding field characters of the varied thrush which is only likely to be confused with the robin.

DISTRIBUTION.—It breeds from Kowak Valley, Yukon Delta, and Mackenzie Delta south to Prince William Sound, and in the mountains south through eastern British Columbia to Montana and Oregon. It is found in the McKinley region at low elevations in the deep spruce woods.

HABITS.—Charles Sheldon (1930, p. 403) reports the Northern varied thrush as a common summer resident which breeds in Mount McKinley National Park. He saw the first spring arrival on May 15, and the species was last seen in the fall on October 7. Sheldon also reports that by May 24, the voice of the varied thrush was heard constantly in the evening and occasionally during the day.

We did not encounter this species at all in the McKinley region in 1926. However, it was fairly common there in 1932, when the first spring arrival was noted at Park Headquarters on May 18. An adult male was collected at this locality on May 31, 1932, but after that date the birds became scarce and the species was observed but once, June 26, until August 21, when a varied thrush passing southward was observed at McKinley Bar where no birds of this species had been present earlier in the summer. No positive evidence of breeding in the form of eggs, nests, or young birds, could be found.

Hylocichla guttata guttata [PALLAS]

GENERAL APPEARANCE.—A small, trim, tawny brown elf with a white breast heavily spotted with dark brown dots and a short stubby reddish tail. Length, 7 inches.

IDENTIFICATION.—The small size and the distinctly dull red or rusty tail are the best "sight" field characters of this species; and the flutelike song, suggestive of sacred music heard at evening, also identifies this bird.

DISTRIBUTION.—It breeds from central Alaska south to Cross Sound and northern British Columbia. It is found breeding in the lower wooded sections of the McKinley region.

HABITS.—Charles Sheldon (1930, p. 403) reports this species as arriving at Toklat, where it breeds, on May 26. We secured a female as a specimen at Park Headquarters on May 31, but this specimen was destroyed later by a red squirrel.

It is our experience that this is the rarest of the thrushes in the McKinley region.

Hylocichla ustulata swainsoni [TSCHUDI]

GENERAL APPEARANCE.— A thrush with an olive or tawny back. The tail is the same color as the back. The breast and lower parts are white, heavily spotted with brown. Length, 7.2 inches.

IDENTIFICATION.—The olive-backed thrush may be distinguished from the Alaska hermit thrush by the tail which is olive-colored instead of rusty or reddish; and from the gray-cheeked thrush by the cheeks and sides of the head which are distinctly tawny, or ocherous, instead of grayish.

DISTRIBUTION.—It breeds from northwestern Alaska and Mackenzie south to California, Utah, Colorado, Michigan and in the mountains to Pennsylvania and West Virginia. It is found in the dense spruce woods in the McKinley region.

HABITS.—This thrush is a retiring bird. It is often heard singing at night. I sighted this species first on May 31, 1932, at Park Headquarters when a male was collected. Sheldon reports that the birds kept singing all night during the nesting season and that the first arrival appeared on May 12. It is a common breeder in the McKinley region.

Hylocichla minima aliciae [BAIRD]

GENERAL APPEARANCE.—A larger thrush than the hermit and olive backed thrushes. Its back and tail are of a uniform grayish-olive color without any rusty color. Length, 7.5 inches.

IDENTIFICATION.—The lack of any rusty or red color on the tail distinguishes this species from the hermit thrushes in the field. Although the back and tail are of uniform color as in the olive-backed thrush, the cheeks and the sides of the neck are clear gray without any tawny or buffy ground color, as in swainsoni.

DISTRIBUTION.—It breeds from northeastern Siberia through northwestern Alaska to northern Manitoba and central Quebec and Newfoundland. It is restricted to deep spruce woods in the McKinley region.

HABITS.—In the field this thrush is likely to be confused with the olive-backed thrush, which probably accounts for Sheldon not mentioning it in his list of birds of the Mount McKinley region. We found it a regular summer visitor in the park. We first found this species on June 3, 1926. Wright saw three individuals in a dense spruce wood. One of these was collected on June 4. In 1932, the first spring arrival was collected on May 31. No nests were found and the species was rarely seen after June 5.

Oenanthe oenanthe oenanthe [LINNAEUS]

GENERAL APPEARANCE.—A bird about the size of the common bluebird to which it is allied, and which it resembles closely in flight and in feeding habits. The top of the head and back are clear gray with artisty overwash. The wings and tail are brown. The throat and stripe above the eye are white and it has a broad black stripe which extends from the base of the bill through and below the eye. The under parts and base of tail are creamy white. Length, 6 inches.

IDENTIFICATION.—The bluebird appearance of this bird and the broad white spot at the base of the tail, which is conspicuous when the bird takes flight, are the two best field characters of the species.

DISTRIBUTION.—The European wheatear breeds from the British Isles and Central Europe east to northern Alaska, south to the mouth of the Yukon and high up in the mountain passes above timber in the Mount McKinley region. It winters in India and in eastern Africa.

HABITS.—We first met this Asiatic straggler in the McKinley region on May 29, 1926, when a male bird in breeding condition was collected high up on the mountain side 1,000 feet above timber line. This bird was one of a pair that hopped around and explored a rock pile in a rock-wrenlike manner. The male was repeatedly seen to enter a narrow crevice in a rocky outcrop. We believed that the birds were nesting there but we were unable to reach the nest, the crevice was so narrow. On July 14, 1926, at Copper Mountain, I collected a young bob-tailed wheatear just out of the nest and barely able to fly. This young bird was in the speckled plumage which is similar to that of a young bluebird. However, the feathers of the wings and back were edged with brown. The white rump patch was as conspicuous in the immature bird as in the adult.

In 1932 I found wheatears more numerous than they had been in 1926. Nesting pairs were seen at Sable Pass, Savage Canyon, and near Double Mountain. On July 25, 1926, two families of wheatears were seen at Copper Mountain. The young were almost full grown. On August 24, 1932, at Highway Pass several families of wheatears were seen along the highroad which was then under construction. The broad white patch at the base of the tail was conspicuous. Except for a certain drabness of color and ungroomed appearance, the young were similar to the adults.

Myadestes townsendi [AUDUBON]

GENERAL APPEARANCE.—A thrushlike bird slightly smaller and more slender than a robin. The general color of the bird is gray, except for the partly concealed tawny spots near the middle of the wing and for the outer tail feathers which show white when the bird is in flight. Length, 8 inches.

IDENTIFICATION.—Its beautiful song; the slender form and uniform gray color; the white outer tail feathers, and the white eye-ring of this bird are all good field characters.

DISTRIBUTION.—It breeds from Mount McKinley south through the Rocky Mountains to Arizona and New Mexico, and through the Sierra Nevada to the mountains of southern California.

HABITS.—This long-tailed gray bird is usually found in remote mountain districts, in the McKinley region it is rare and is most likely to be found near cliffs or in the canyons of the larger streams where it builds its nest under overhanging banks.

In 1926 our first acquaintance with the solitaire was on July 9, when a young bird just out of the nest was collected at Igloo Creek. In 1932 on May 26, a pair of solitaires was observed in a canyon, and on July 28, a single individual was noted at Igloo Creek. This total of only four individuals was seen in two seasons.

Acanthopneuste borealis kennicotti [BAIRD]

GENERAL APPEARANCE.—A bird similar in size and with general habits of the warbling vireo. About its nest it is a loud incessant singer. The upper parts of this bird and the tail are dull greenish. The under parts are creamy yellow and it has a distinct yellow stripe above the eye. Length, 4.5 inches.

IDENTIFICATION.—The yellow stripe above the eye, the incessant song, and the general warbling vireo characters are the best field marks for the species.

DISTRIBUTION.—It breeds in western Alaska and winters in southeastern Asia.

HABITS.—This bird and the European wheatear are two species of land birds that cross the Pacific Ocean twice each year, traveling to their breeding grounds in Alaska and returning to winter in India and Africa. It is probable that the birds reach Alaska by following the Aleutian chain of islands from Asia to North America. Kennicott's willow warbler was a fairly common breeding bird on the upper Savage River in 1926. Here, on June 20, we found half a dozen willow warblers singing in one tract of spruce woods. The song might well be described as intermediate between that of the orange-crowned and northern pileolated warblers. Two of these birds were seen to perch on a limb fluttering their wings quite audibly and uttering a harsh "chit" at frequent intervals.

Three specimens were collected in June 1926, and two proved to be adult males in full breeding condition.

In 1932 I repeatedly visited the exact locality where these warblers had been found in 1926, but I neither saw nor heard them. All summer a continued search was carried on in the McKinley region but not a single willow warbler could be found. The late heavy snows had apparently prevented their reaching this inland district.

This is an Old World warbler related more closely to the kinglets than to the American wood warblers with which Americans are most familiar. Unlike the European wheatear, the willow warblers breeding in Alaska are regarded as a distinct race (kennicotti).

Corthylio calendula calendula [LINNAEUS]

GENERAL APPEARANCE.—The kinglets are the smallest birds found in the McKinley region. They have short rounded bodies, short tails, and short straight bills. Their general color is dull olive green above, lighter below, with a brilliant red crown patch on the top of the head. The males are incessant singers and they produce a song which seemingly could not possibly come from so small a bird. Length, 4 inches.

IDENTIFICATION.—The song, the small size, the greenish color, and particularly the bright red crown patch are the best field characters of this bird.

DISTRIBUTION.—It breeds from northwestern Alaska south to central New Mexico and southern Arizona. It is found throughout the spruce belt in the McKinley region.

HABITS.—Charles Sheldon found this bird to be a common summer visitor. He noted the first spring arrival on April 29. On June 4, 1932, at Park Headquarters, just after several inches of snow had fallen and the storm had abated, I heard a ruby-crowned kinglet in a dense spruce wood in full song. The breeding song is unmistakable.

In our experience this bird is a rare breeder in the McKinley region.

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

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