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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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Five species were reported by local residents as having been seen in the park but positive evidence of their occurrence inside the park is lacking. The records cited, however, are for localities just outside the park boundaries, and these species are, therefore, consigned to the hypothetical list.

Mergus serrator [LINNAEUS]

GENERAL APPEARANCE.—A fish-eating duck, commonly known as sawbill, with a cylindrical, tapering, serrated bill. The hind toe is lobed as in the sea ducks. Length, 22 inches.

IDENTIFICATION.—The red-breasted merganser may be distinguished from the American merganser by its smaller size and by the feathering at the base of the bill, which, in the red-breasted species, extends well forward on the side of the upper mandible beyond the feathering on the lower mandible.

The male red-breasted merganser has a crest and a reddish breast band which are lacking in the male American merganser. Females of the two species are difficult to distinguish except by the feathering at the base of the bill.

DISTRIBUTION.—It breeds throughout northern Canada and Alaska, nesting north as far as the Arctic coast. In the McKinley region, it was observed on the Nenana River near Healy. This was the only time in the two seasons' field work that the species was found by us.

Pedioecetes phasianellus phasianellus [LINNAEUS]

GENERAL APPEARANCE.—A large pale grouse with many sharp, dark V-shaped marks on the breast and flanks. The tail is soft and pointed, and is almost white. The bird has no characteristic neck adornments or plumes. Length, 17.5 inches.

IDENTIFICATION.—The sharp tail, the light color below, and the many dark V-shaped marks on the breast and flanks distinguish this species from other members of the grouse family.

DISTRIBUTION.—It ranges across the north woods from Quebec to Alaska and it is said to occur along the Sanctuary and Nenana Rivers, near the north boundary of Mount McKinley National Park.

HABITS.—This is a bird of the lower lands in the Tanana Valley, and while we did not actually see any birds of the species within the park, they might easily occur there. Edward Gern, and other men who are familiar with this grouse, state that they have seen "pintail grouse" near the north boundary of the park. We examined study skins which, together with the reports from reliable men, indicate that this species of grouse occurs sparingly over all of the lower Tanana and Nenana River valleys.

On August 1, 1932, I received a northern sharp-tailed grouse that had just been killed, near Sperry, by flying into a speeding gas car on the Alaska Railroad. This bird was sent to me by Colonel Ohlson, of the Alaska Railroad; it was saved as a specimen.

Squatarola squatarola [LINNAEUS]

GENERAL APPEARANCE.—A good-sized chunky shore bird with a short black bill less than the length of the head. It is checked black and white above and its face, throat, and breast are solid black. The hind toe is rudimentary. Length, 11 inches.

IDENTIFICATION.—Though larger than the golden plover, the black-bellied plover is similar to it. In summer it is more white than black above, particularly on the crown which is nearly white instead of black, as it is in the golden plover. The black-bellied plover lacks the golden flecking or spotting which is present on the backs of breeding golden plovers. Also, the under tail coverts are white in the black-bellied plover and black in the golden plover.

DISTRIBUTION.—It is a circumpolar form, breeding in North America along the Arctic coast west of Hudson Bay.

HABITS.—Our sole record for this species in the McKinley region is based upon the observations of Charles Sheldon (1930, p. 10) who on July 25, 1926, records that "black-bellied plovers were often seen" on the ridges between the Muldrow and Muddy forks of the McKinley River. All the breeding specimens that we collected in the McKinley region have proved to be Pacific golden plovers.

Petrochelidon albifrons albifrons [RAFINESQUE]

GENERAL APPEARANCE.—A medium-sized swallow. It is steel blue above, except for the rump which is a light tan. The tail is not forked. This bird has a creamy bar across its forehead; the face and throat are a rich chestnut, and the belly is white. Length, 6 inches.

IDENTIFICATION.—Good field characters of this species are the white forehead; the square tail which is conspicuous in flight, and the birds' gourd-shaped mud nests plastered on the cliffs.

DISTRIBUTION.—It breeds from central Alaska and upper Yukon south over nearly all of the United States, except Florida and the Rio Grande Valley.

In Mount McKinley National Park it is found breeding on Toklat River near the north boundary of the park.

HABITS.—The characteristic gourd-shaped mud nest of this species can not be confused with that of any other bird. Charles Sheldon (1930, p. 386) states that on June 11, 1908, a colony of cliff swallows had finished their nests on the cliffs at the lower forks of the Toklat and were already laying their eggs.

This species is believed to be a regular summer resident along the lower northern boundary of Mount McKinley National Park.

Cinctus mexicanus unicolor [BONAPARTE]

GENERAL APPEARANCE.—A plump, short-tailed bird. It is uniform dark slaty gray in color. Its close and compact feathering permits this bird to dive under water and to even walk under water on the bottom of mountain streams searching for insect food. Length, 6.5 inches.

IDENTIFICATION.—Good field characters of the dipper, or water ouzel, are the chunky body and dark slate gray color; its habit of bobbing up and down, and its loud, sparkling song.

DISTRIBUTION.—It breeds along mountain streams from northwestern Alaska to southern California and southern New Mexico. It was noted on the Toklat River in the McKinley region by Sheldon.

HABITS.—The dipper is noted for its cheerful, bubbling song which may be heard even in mid-winter when practically all other birds have ceased singing. On January 28, 1908, Charles Sheldon (1930, p. 282) states: "But what surprised me most in this region of winter cold was . . . the beautiful song of a small bird, seemingly a symbol of spring . . . I determined to find the songster that was pouring forth such music among ice and snow. As I advanced to the river bank, the music seemed to issue from directly beneath me in the ice gorge, through which the waters swiftly flowed. Cautiously stepping to the edge, I spied a water ouzel sitting on a projection of ice close to the water. Others were in the frosted willows nearby, and still others on and about the ice."

Sheldon states that winter temperatures sometimes drop to 60° below zero in this region. For that particular winter the lowest temperature which he recorded was 41° below zero. Even this seems pretty severe weather for a dipper.

The dipper is not numerous or common in the McKinley region, but it can sometimes be found along the clear creeks and grayling streams in that region.

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

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