All About Denali Park | From The Denali Summer Times
Gray Jay Gray jays are known as "Camp Robbers." You’ll see gray jays hopping around on picnic tables, looking for a handout. The gray jay has a larger head than a “Lower 48” jay, and no crest. It’s a year-round resident of Alaska, and lives in spruce forests. It eats seeds and insects. Photo, Kevin Hamel, Totem Inn - Healy
The most amazing thing about the birds in Denali, as Carol McIntyre points out, is how far they come for such a short summer. Defying all odds and logic, birds fly here from six continents, including Africa. Altogether there are about 150 species that regularly come to Denali. Some just stop and rest, but many stay and raise their young. What is even more amazing, are those birds that stay all year, making it through an unbelievably cold and harsh Denali winter. Here are a few summer birds, and some that we see all year round.
Trumpeter Swan In this great picture you can see these are trumpeters by the black bill that goes all the way to the eye. Hunters killed so many of these swans that they almost went extinct. By 1932, biologists could only find 69 in the wild. Today about 80% of the world's 16,000+ trumpeter swans nest in Alaska. The summer season is so short that the baby swans (cygnets) must grow fast to be able to fly before the lakes freeze in the fall. Photo, Kevin Hamel, Totem Inn - Healy
Horned Grebe This grebe is all decked out in its red and black breeding outfit. It doesn't really have "horns" – just yellow feathers behind its eyes. The chicks of grebes often hitch a ride on their parents' backs, even staying on when they dive underwater. Photo, Kevin Hamel, Totem Inn - Healy
White-Crowned Sparrow Alaska is the summer range for the white-crowned sparrow. These fly south to the "Lower 48" where they are considered a "winter" bird. Some Alaskan white-crowned sparrows migrate over 2,500 miles to California. Alaskans love the song of this bird, which shows summer is here. This sparrow's song also accompanies berry pickers. Photo, Kevin Hamel, Totem Inn - Healy
Snow Bunting This small songbird appears along the roadside in March and April. The magic appearance of flocks of snow buntings accompanies the return of daylight to the North. By mid-March there are twelve hours of daylight all over Alaska (and the entire world). In Denali, that's 7 and 2/3 hours more than in December, and in Barrow, it's 12 hours more than in December! These snow buntings are perched on a spruce tree, warming in the sun. Photo, Kevin Hamel, Totem Inn - Healy
Northern Pintail Duck A pintail male has a beautiful dark brown head with a white line coming up his neck from his front, and, as his name suggests he has a very long tail. These females, like most ducks, don't look as striking as the males. There is a reason – female ducks have to blend in when they are sitting on their nests laying eggs – so foxes don't see them. Photo, Kevin Hamel, Totem Inn - Healy
Yellow Rumped Warbler These are very flashy birds, arriving in May and darting in and out of trees, catching insects in mid-air. They seem to like to stay in the spruce trees while they're here, raising there young. This one has just caught a tasty bug! Photo, Kevin Hamel, Totem Inn - Healy
Common Redpoll Redpolls look like sparrows, but they are really finches. They store food in a crop (or pouch) in their throat, and then eat the food at night. They need to do that because the winter days are so short and the Alaskan nights are so long. They were studied extensively byLeonard Peyton, a University of Alaska biologist who found flocks of them in his backyard in Fairbanks. Photo, Kevin Hamel, Totem Inn - Healy
More About Denali’s Birds A bird list for all of Alaska is available on the Alaska Fish & Game website. They have an Alaska Bird Checklist you can download. The Denali Visitor Center bookstore sells a bird list specific to Denali National Park. Of special interest to bird watchers in Denali are three species of ptarmigan, two shorebirds (the surfbird and wandering tattler) and two birds from Asia (the arctic warbler and the wheatear.) The bald eagle, which often feeds on salmon, is relatively rare on the north side of Denali Park. This is where the golden eagle – which feeds on ground squirrels, snowshoe hare and ptarmigan – thrives. You’ll find golden eagles in open and mountainous areas, where they can spot their prey. In the spring and fall, trumpeter swans fly across the the region. In the fall, if you’re lucky, you may see a flock of sandhill cranes. Check at the visitor center for information about recent bird sightings or to report what you have seen.