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Spruce Grouse, not hunted

Spruce GrouseThe spruce grouse is a very common bird in interior Alaska.   It’s one of several species of grouse that live in this state.

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!Spruce Grouse, female

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.

Spruce Grouse next to the Trans-Alaska PipelineThe 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 Spruce Grouse, chickreddish-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!

 

 

 

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Bird Congregation

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.

Raven, Rough-Legged HawkThe rough-legged hawk and raven seem to be acting as sentries over the vast flocks, but they are watching for sinister purposes.

Rough-legged HawkYes, watching carefully.

Rough-legged hawk eating a duckSure enough,  a hawk has gotten herself a meal.

Rough-legged hawk But really, how can you blame her?

Short-eared OwlA short-eared owl perches nearby.

Kind of hard to believe that little twig can hold him up.  He must be all fluff.

And life goes on….

Butterfly Exits Cocoon

I imagine that most people who like birds don’t mind butterflies, so here’s a slideshow I created from photos taken last summer of a butterfly leaving a cocoon.  For over a week I kept the camera and its time lapse device set up outside, through heat and rain, waiting until it broke out of its temporary home… then the actual event lasted only a few minutes!  And because of memory card limitations I could only set the camera to take a photo every 30 seconds – I wish it could’ve been a shorter interval – but I’m still pleased with the few shots I got.

I don’t know the specific name of this butterfly but I’ve definitely seen it before.

Butterfly Leaving Cocoon 1Butterfly Leaving Cocoon 2

Butterfly Leaving Cocooon 3

Butterfly Leaving Cocoon 4

After the butterfly left the cocoon it crawled into some potato plant leaves and you can see that it dripped a dark fluid that looks like blood (but of course isn’t).  Apparently it’s a waste product that doesn’t come from their wings as I had first assumed but from their abdomen, being released after chrysalis, the cocoon stage.

ButterflyThe butterfly never opened its wings for me so I didn’t get that photo.  And I wish I knew the name of this butterfly!  Please comment if you have any idea.  Thanks and I hope everyone is having a terrific summer!

Redpoll Baby (and it just stopped snowing!)

Redpoll Baby

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.

Redpoll: Adapted to Gorging

Common Redpoll - Fairbanks, Alaska

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.

Redpoll - Fairbanks, Alaska

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!

“Planned Pigeonhood” in Waikiki

Pigeons in WaikikiIf 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.

Pigeon missing footThe 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 treat 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.

Puffed Up Pigeons

Pigeons in Fairbanks during 30 below zero (F) weather

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.)

Some perch at night in attics and eaves (and I assume even sometimes in trees if they have to although I don’t know if I’ve ever seen one in a tree).

Some 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!