The one on the left has red combs above its eyes so we know it’s a male (click it for a better view). I’ve seen quite a few spruce grouse over the years but never have I seen the courtship display. The National Geographic Feild Guide to Birds says “In courtship strutting display, male spreads his tail, erects the red combs above his eyes, and rapidly beats his wings; some males also give a series of low-pitched hoots.” This would be something to see!
The male on the left is standing next to the Trans-Alaska Pipeline and my husband and I saw at least 10 or 20 when we were driving the pipeline access road for a couple of hours. The spruce grouse is a game bird and hunters can take them throughout Alaska except during the months of May, June & July (with a few exceptions). It is somewhat common to hunt them for food. To me, this is a necessary evil. I’m a birder and I consider myself an environmentalist but I think that hunting has a role to play in a healthy diet. As long as the bird dies quickly and the meat is used for food I am not against this. I have had ptarmigan myself, but never grouse. It was delicious. Eating a bird that has had a ‘happy’ life is better for everyone, and for the world, than one who lives in tiny cages or in huge flocks in warehouses.
Residents of Alaska can also kill cormorants, crows, and Snowy Owls, as long as they are taken for food or clothing. It sounds cruel but there are Alaska Native traditions that involve these birds and their feathers and this must be respected as long as the birds are not endangered.
The spruce grouse on the right, and its chick, were spotted on a trail about a mile off the Steese Highway north of Fairbanks, back in 2006. You can see the female has a reddish-brown stripe over its eye, reminiscent of the male. I don’t remember exactly what time of year I took the photos but it was probably early June or late May. (I’m not sure exactly what to call the baby since it seems bigger than a chick and smaller than a juvenile. It’s more like a ‘tween. 🙂
Hard to believe but this bird subsists mainly on spruce needles! They must have powerful digestive systems. They can stuff their crops full of the equivalent of 10% of their body weight, to be digested later, and their gizzards grow by 75% during the winter when their energy needs increase.
As someone who lives in interior Alaska year-round, I’m quite impressed with a bird that can live here in the winter. Along with ravens and chickadees, they have adapted some clever ways to make it.
Here’s to a mild winter for us all!
I don’t think this is a very common sight on the coastal plains of northern Alaska (or anywhere?), but as my husband drove in to Prudhoe Bay last spring, he spied this unusually large gathering of various birds.
Kind of hard to believe that little twig can hold him up. He must be all fluff.
And life goes on….
I’m happy to say my husband caught the birding bug! He took this photo of a juvenile redpoll. I would even go as far as calling it a baby redpoll. It’s hard to tell how tiny it is, but he said just a couple inches, really small. The short tail feathers probably enhance the tiny effect.
We’re a bit surprised that there are fledged redpolls this early in the spring. It stopped snowing less than 2 weeks ago! And now it’s 70 degrees, go figure. Either way, my husband said this little guy flew away,barely, so maybe he or she will have a fighting chance.
These redpolls, and many more, are coming to our feeder lately in droves. I’ve started putting seed out one or two times a day instead of letting them gorge themselves at the feeder nonstop. I don’t want to test it out but I would be willing to bet they could empty the entire contents of the feeder in only one day. (It’s on the small side but can still fit at least a quart jar’s worth of sunflower hearts.)
It’s unbelievable how much they can eat. My guess as to how many birds visit the feeder per day is perhaps 30 to 40, though it could be upwards of 100 or more stopping by once a day (or less often).
Actually, they aren’t eating most of the seed. Apparently they store it in their “esophageal diverticulum” and regurgitate it later to eat in peace.
These two”on-alert” fine fellows might actually be females (lack of red on their chests).
Once late May and June arrive, the birds practically disappear, so even if they are acting like little piggies at the trough right now, we still enjoy them!
If you’ve been fortunate enough to visit the beautiful island of Hawaii you’ve probably visited Honolulu. And if you’ve visited Honolulu that means you’ve probably been to Waikiki. And if you’ve been to Waikiki that means you’ve seen the pigeons (a.k.a. rock doves).
Lovely birds, as special as any living creature, but not very popular with the tourists.
Hawaii is a common destination for Alaskans in the winter. With an almost total lack of sunshine from November to February we pledge to ourselves that this winter we are getting out! Hopefully it happens. And there is nary a more direct route to full-on sunshine then the quick five or so hours from Anchorage to Honolulu.
The pigeon on the very left is looking pretty mangy (click on the photo to see it larger). There are so many pigeons in Waikiki, with no natural predators anywhere in sight, that they over breed and become a danger to themselves and people. The photo on the right shows another pigeon from Waikiki, this one missing a foot and walking around a restaurant hunting for food scraps and somehow managing to avoid being clobbered.
So when I saw this posting by the Human Society about OvoControl, a contraceptive-laced food that property owners can feed pigeons, I was thrilled. It describes how the manager of The International Marketplace, one of the most popular tourist destinations in Waikiki, chose to take a chance on the product and saw a 60% reduction in pigeons after 12 months. (It costs $9 a day to feed/treat 100 pigeons.)
Talk about an ideal non-violent and humane solution! Maybe this will catch on in communities that are fed up with the overpopulation of this city-loving bird.
It’s amazing that any pigeons at all make it through our frigid Fairbanks winters.
This year we saw several weeks of sustained 30-40 below zero (F) weather and they are still flying around! (This photo was taken when it was about 30 below.)
They perch at night in attics and eaves, and sometimes in trees. Some nice people throw seed on the ground outside their homes throughout the winter, and the birds congregate in those places during the day. Not so much different then me feeding little redpolls and chickadees I suppose!
My friend and I drove into Homer, Alaska one evening in April of 2006. Our trip was fortunately timed – though not purposely – because we caught the eagles still in town. They were reaping the benefits of friendly human feeders before leaving for summer’s greener pastures.
As we drove down onto the Homer Spit eagles were perched on nearly every building. The sun’s long evening rays set them off and they were so still that we asked each other, are they real?? But as we drove down the spit to the Land’s End Hotel, we saw enough of them shuffle their feathers or blink their eyes to know they were totally and gorgeously real.
If I had only thought to take a photo… (Though at that time I used a plain point and shoot which would not have done justice to the moment.)
Over the next couple of days I took plenty of time to walk the beaches and absorb the feelings of a place that was (and still is) pretty much totally foreign to me. As a landlubber in Alaska I see plenty of wildlife, but usually not the same wildlife as near the coasts.
This was a common sight on the beaches, people leaving fish guts and carcases out for the eagles. Gulls and crows benefit too.
I never saw an eagle growing up (bald or not!) until about 10 years ago. Now I see them at least a couple of times a year in and around Fairbanks. It could be that as a child or young adult I wasn’t paying attention, but I’d be willing to bet that their population has grown throughout Alaska over the last couple of decades as it has generally in North America.
On the right you can see the mottled feather pattern of a 2 or 3 year old eagle. It takes 4 years for an eagle to get its adult plumage and wing length.
Valdez has quite a few bald eagles too, but I’ve never seen this many at a time anywhere but Homer. (Some day I’ll make it to Haines too for the Alaska Bald Eagle Festival and the Chilkat Preserve.) If you’re a bald eagle fan all three of these places should be on your list!
A few years ago a chubby Redpoll visited our feeder.
This antique dish had broken and I couldn’t part with it, so I put seed in it, and the redpoll adopted it. He (or she) sat right in it and ate and ate and ate. Like his full switch never got flipped.
He moved quite slow. My husband and I figured that he was missing some kind of instinct or characteristic that gives birds their fast-twitch, jumpy nature. Probably something that they need to survive.
He’s puffed up too because of the chilly weather, but this bird was quite unusual in that he was fatter, slower, and never flew away intermittently like the other birds. He was totally content to eat continuously, rarely looking up. This was the very last photo I took and out of at least 20, this is the only time I got him looking up.
After watching hundreds or even thousands of birds at the feeder over the years, this little guy’s behavior was profoundly different than all the others.