Yes. Hummingbirds can be found in Homer during the summer, and occasionally the tenacious little birds stick around for the winter too. To learn more about these fascinating little birds, check out the story “Hummers in Homer” by Kachemak Bay Birder, Lani Raymond (published September 12, 2018)
General Information: Other than commonly seen, there is nothing ‘common’ about the Common Raven – a member of the Corvidae Family, Order Passeriformes (yes a “songbird”). There are eight subspecies of Raven, with the Common Raven of Alaska sharing the Corvidae Family spotlight with the Northwestern Crow, Gray Jay, Steller’s Jay, and Black-billed Magpie of Homer.
The raven is often described as the ‘Einstein of birds’—exhibiting unique problem-solving abilities and the ability to learn from observed behavior. The brain of a Common Raven is among the largest of all birds. And, as if the bird knows it is special and not common, the walk of a raven has been described as a swagger accentuated with a couple of hops as distinguished from the waddling crow.
Characteristics: The Common Raven is a large bird, with glossy black feathers, a large bill, shaggy throat feathers, weighing in at 2.6 pounds, and 25 inches long – not your average Passerine song bird. Juvenile birds lack the shaggy throat feathers.
They are larger than the Northwestern Crow as demonstrated in the photo below. A good way to distinguish a Common Raven from an American or Northwestern Crow is the by their wedge-shaped tails, best observed in flight. They are long-lived birds.
Northwestern Crow in the foreground, Common Raven in the background
Photo by Randy Weisser
Preferred Habitat: The Common Raven is often distinguished from the Northwestern Crow by habitat selection with the Raven preferring more open countryside areas near forested areas whereas the crow is more habituated to human presence. However, being an exceptional bird, the raven provides an exception to the rule and is often found on Homer beaches with the reward of a good food supply and open space.
The Raven is adaptable to a wide variety of habitat — at home in the Alaskan Arctic, forest, grassland, and coast. And, for you ‘snowbirds,’ the Common Raven is even found in the Southwestern, ‘lower 48’, desert.
Breeding Season:Ravens mate for life. In interior Alaska, mating behavior is displayed in mid-January with nesting beginning in mid-March.
Nesting: Nests are large – essentially a pile of sticks, up to five feet in diameter and two feet in height, forming a platform of weaved sticks, and often found in the crouch of a tree or cliff overhang. The male will salvage sticks or even break off tree limbs three-foot long to contribute to the nest. The female is the interior designer making an inner cup 5-6 inches deep and 9-12 inches wide. They generally pick a new nesting area each year.
Photo by Michelle Michaud
Eggs and Incubation: The female lays 3-7 eggs with an incubation period of 20-25 days. The female incubates while the male brings food to the female. The pair has one brood a year.
The chicks are altricial – blind and featherless, thus helpless. They are ‘nest-bound’ and require the care and feeding by both parents.
Fledging: The chicks leave the nest about 4 weeks after hatching. The remain with the parents after they fledge.
Food Preferences: The Common Raven has been described as ‘feeding on practically anything’ in its Omnivore style dietary preferences. They are opportunistic feeders.
The Common Raven is often a major predator, especially taking nest eggs of seabirds. Foraging is often facilitated by a pair of Ravens as they incorporate clever methods of finding food.
They will cache or hide their food, and raid other ravens’ caches. They are known to regurgitate undigestable food (think pellets). Their diet is mostly small mammals, but also berries and other fruit, grains, small invertebrates, amphibians, reptiles (outside of Alaska, of course), and birds.
They will follow a predator’s tracks to a fresh kill; and will tug on the tail feathers of a raptor (such as Bald Eagle) to distract it so it can steal a bite of food. This activity has been observed on the beach at Anchor Point during the summer fishing season. Check it out next time you are there.
During the non-breeding season, they may travel up to 30-40 miles from their roost site to feed.
Roosting: In winter, Common Ravens may gather in flocks to forage during the day and to roost at night. During the rest of the year, they are often coupled, or in small groups. As many as 800 ravens have been seen in one roost near Fairbanks. Now that is a lot of ravens.
Migration: The Common Raven is a year-round resident of Homer – well throughout its range. It has been the only bird present during the Christmas Bird Count in Barrow.
Vocalizations: The Common Raven is described as a great mimic and possesses a varied repertoire of social vocalizations. One study in Alaska showed ravens have more than 30 distinct vocalizations (including mews, whistles, even dripping water sounds). The most common vocalization is deep guttural or croaking voice – it almost sounds like the Raven is talking to you, or voicing an opinion. They are talented mimics.
Flight Call: Kaw
Fun Facts (there are a lot of them for the raven):
A flock of ravens is called an “unkindness”.
Ravens have been described as playful, as an active learning strategy.
They are known to recognize different individuals – both ravens and humans.
Juvenile ravens have been observed sliding down snowbanks and rolling in fresh snow, apparently just for fun.
Ravens seem to play in the air as well – flying loops, executing rolls, dive-bombing each other.
Edgar Allan Poe made the raven famous as a symbol of death. The raven is a theme in much of Native American mythology. Alaska Natives; Tlingit, Haida, Tsimshian, BellaBella, and Kwakiutl all viewed the raven as the creator of the world and bringer of daylight. The raven is also important in the creation of myths by the Eskimo. The myths of the raven remain a significant social and religious component of Alaska culture.
Legend has it that if ravens leave the Tower of London the British Kingdom will fall.
They were once slaughtered as pests (okay not such a “fun” fact).
World’s largest perching bird.
North America’s largest songbird.
Juveniles do not breed until 3-4 years of age and will often help with feeding the subsequent young of their natal parents.
Conservation Status: Ravens disappeared from much of the East and Midwest before 1900. In recent decades they have been expanding their range again, especially in the northeast, spreading south into formerly occupied areas.
The International Union of Conservation of Nature lists the Common Raven as a species of Least Concern – trend increasing. The raven does not appear on the Alaska Audubon’s Alaska Watchlist 2017. There is an estimated 7.7 million Common Ravens.
Other Raven Species in Alaska: There are no other raven species in Alaska, but other members of the corvid family here include the Northwestern Crow, Steller’s Jay, Gray Jay, and Black-billed Magpie.
For more information: The Common Raven has been researched extensively. Several good books include:
Ravens in Winter, by Bernd Heinrich
Mind of the Raven by Bernd Heinrich
In the Company of Crows and Ravens by John M. Marzluff and Tony Angell
Our August Bird Rhythms presentation on KBBI features the Marbled Murrelet – our Bird of the Month, plus Louise Ashmun what to do if you find a bird with a deformed beak or an injured bird (see our “Home” page for who to contact). The presentation also addresses what to do for our safety as we live in bear country – alternatives to feeding birds year-round.
Carla Stanley talks about the importance of bird habitat for food, water, shelter, and nesting areas to hatch and raise their young. She also talks about the Kachemak Bay Birders’ Bird of the Month – the Arctic Tern. To learn more about the Arctic Tern go to: http://kachemakbaybirders.org/blog/category/bird-of-the-month/ (Be sure to scroll down to reach the Arctic Tern post).
Most of us have had birds strike/collide with the windows at our home. We are disheartened by the death or injury of birds when this happens. But what can we do? Kachemak Bay Birder, Michelle Michaud lets us know in her recent Homer News article: https://www.homernews.com/opinion/what-just-hit-my-window/.
Find out what you can do, and what others have done, to prevent these window strikes/collisions.
General Information: The Marbled Murrelet is small chunky, long-lived seabird. This bird is unique among aclids, including other murrelets, in that it nests high up in large coastal trees. In the Pacific Northwest, these species can be found nesting up to 50 miles inland in old-growth forests. The species has a global population of 385,000, with 70% of the population residing in Alaska. It is a member of the alcidae family.
Range: The Marbled Murrelet can be found along the Pacific coast from northern Baja California out into the Aleutian Islands. This chunky little seabird can be found year-round in Kachemak Bay and Cook Inlet.
Characteristics: Often found in pairs, but in protected bays in Alaska, the Marbled Murrelet can be found in groups numbering around 50 birds. In breeding plumage darkish-brown overall. In non-breeding plumage a black cap and cheep patch, white collar, white scapulars, white breast and vent. Fairly long bill.
They forage, loaf, molt, preen, and undertake courtship displays in near-shore marine waters.
Preferred Habitat: This bird spends all of its time on the ocean, except when breeding.Winters at sea.
Breeding Season: April through September
Nests: Moss-covered platforms on large moss-covered limbs in old-growth trees (200+ years old). In treeless areas in Alaska, the bird nests on the ground or in rocky cavities typically within one-mile of shore, but no more than four-miles from shore.
Eggs and Incubation: Egg laying begins in April through late June/early July. Only one egg is laid. Nestlings are semi-precocial and downy. The nest is tended by both parents and hatchlings are brooded up to three days (birds stay in the nest).
Fledging: The chick leaves the nest 27-28 days following hatching, flying either to sea or a lake near the coast.
Food Preferences: Marbled Murrelets are opportunistic feeders, consuming small fish (e.g, Sand Lance, Capelin, Herring) and crustaceans (Shrimp, Mysids, Euphausiids, and Amphipods).
Feeding Methodology: Surface diver, foraging in shallow water (100 feet or less). Uses it wings to swim under water to catch fish. Prefers waters at the mouth of rivers and glacial streams, however, it can be found foraging 30 miles out from shore.
Migration: Some birds move south in the winter.
Vocalizations: Call is a high, gull-like squeal. At dusk a clear “keer, keer, keer” call.
Threats: Habitat loss is the primary threat in the lower 48, where more than 95% of its habitat has been logged. In Alaska, threats include changes in food availability, avian predators, incidental by-catch in gillnet fisheries, and loss of habitat through old-growth logging. Marbled Murrelets are vulnerable to oil and marine pollution.
The Marbled Murrelet usually nests in trees greater than 200 years in age – old growth.
While the bird was first described in 1789, it wasn’t until almost 200 years later that the first nest of Marbled Murrelet was discovered and formally documented.
The Marbled Murrelet was once known as the “Australian Bumble Bee” by fishermen and as the “fogbird” or “fog lark” by loggers.
Conservation Status: This species is declining and along the Pacific Coast (California, Oregon, and Washington), the species is listed a threatened under the Endangered Species Act. In Alaska, the Marbled Murrelet is on the Alaska Audubon “Alaska Watchlist 2017 – Red List”. Species on the “red list” are either have declining or depressed population trends. Although the Marble Murrelet has declined in population, it population has stabilized over the past decade.
The International Union for Conservation of Nature lists the Marbled Murrelet as endangered; its population trend decreasing.
Similar Species in Alaska: In the Alaska, other murrelet species include the Kittletz Murrelet and the Ancient Murrelet. Occasionally, the Long-billed Murrelet strays into Alaskan waters, including Kachemak Bay (this bird breeds in Siberia).
General Information: This species is also known as the “Mirror-winged Tern” because of its silver gray upperwings, much like a mirror. It is a common arctic and subarctic breeder, and uncommon pelagic migrant. A member of the Laridae family, its estimated population is well over 2.0 million birds. Only 10% of the population is believed to breed in Alaska. The Arctic Tern goes ‘south’ for the winter – if going to Antarctica is considered ‘going south.’
Range: Due to its long distance migration, this bird’s range is quite large. In the spring it migrates from Antarctica to the arctic and subarctic where it breeds. Come fall, it returns to Antarctic either via a western route or an eastern route. Most birds migrate via the eastern route.
Characteristics: A medium size tern with angular wings and pointed wingtips. All plumages show pale silvery gray and white primaries (flight feathers) with small dark tips. In breeding, the adult tern sports a black cap, long deeply forked tail, short red bill, and quite short red legs. In non-breeding plumage the legs and bill are black and the forehead white.
Preferred Habitat: Open ocean, open tundra, open boreal forests, lakes, ponds, marshes, and small rocky islands. During the winter the terns prefer Antarctic pack ice.
Breeding Season: The Arctic Tern is a circumpolar breeder, with breeding beginning in May and June. Breeding pairs form a monogamous bond during a given breeding season. They do not breed until they are 3-4 years old.
Nesting: The Arctic Tern nest in colonies in a variety of habitats: on small, rocky islands – near- shore or off-shore, open tundra, in open boreal forests, and on barrier beaches on the northeastern Atlantic coast.
Both the male and female build the nest – a shallow hollow often unlined or sparsely lined with debris and plant material, which is added while sitting on the nest – obtained within reach of the nest. Parents vigorously defend the nest, diving at and striking intruders.
Arctic terns breed on Tern Lake (appropriate name) at the junction of the Seward and Sterling Highways. Nesting terns can also be found at Potter Marsh outside of Anchorage. Terns previously nested at the Old Tern Colony on the south-side of the Homer Airport, but disturbance has caused nest abandonment.
Photo by Michelle Michaud
Eggs and Incubation: Arctic Terns lay between 1-3 eggs, which are incubated by both parents for 21-23 days. Once hatched, the young are tended by both parents. Chicks are semi-precocial (eyes open) and downy.
The young may leave the nest shortly after hatching, but they don’t travel far – staying close to the nest. Tern chicks can swim at 2 days.
Fledging: The young take wing (fly) 21-28 days after hatching, but are fed by their parents for much longer (1-2 months). These birds will not breed the following year, nor do they make the long migration north. Some may “summer” off the coast of western South America, around Peru.
Food Preferences: Arctic Terns feed on small fish, generally less than 6-inches in length (e.g., sandlances, sandeels, herring, cod, and smelt). They may also grab insects from the air or water surface, and are known to eat crustaceans, mollusks, marine worms, earthworms, and on rare occasions berries.
While in Antarctica the terns feed on krill.
Feeding Methodology: Often feeds with other terns and gulls on the open ocean, but inland generally feeds along tundra lakes, rivers, and marshes. The Arctic Tern feeds by plucking food from the water’s surface or by flying upwind, hovering briefly, then diving to catch prey below the water’s surface. I’m sure we’ve all seen this behavior.
The Arctic Tern may also forages over streams, ponds, lakes, marshes, and coastal waters. They are very aggressive toward intruders and may steal food from other birds by swooping at them causing the bird to drops its catch.
Roosting: Commonly perches on rocks, branches emerging from water, logs, and road signs. Its not uncommon to see an Arctic Tern perched on a road sign along Potter’s Marsh in Anchorage. They can often be found resting on the water.
Photo by Carla Stanley
Migration: Arctic Terns are long-distant migrants, traveling an estimated 31,000 miles during migration. How far and where a migrant travels depends upon what part of North America the bird spends the breeding season. Birds in Western North America (our Alaska birds) migrate south across the Pacific Ocean to Antarctica. Eastern North American birds migrate across the North Atlantic towards Europe and Northern Africa before heading south to Australia, New Zealand, and Antarctica. During migration they remain out to sea.
Spring migration is from March to early June. Fall migration is from July to November, peaking August to mid-September.
Vocalizations: Foraging or when taking off from the colony, Arctic Terns give a high-pitched “kip” call.Alarm call: A shrill or grating scream high in pitch.
Threats: Climate change, oil spills, environmental contaminants, predation (rats, cats, dogs, pigs, horses, cattle, etc.), human disturbance at colonies, habitat degradation, and reductions in fish stocks.
Want to see breeding Arctic Terns then check out Tern Lake at the junction of the Sterling and Seward Highways, with a bonus of possibly seeing an American Dipper at the salmon viewing platform/bridge!
Longest migrant – traveling upwards of 31,000 miles per year
Some live up to 25 years, which equals more than 600,000 miles of flying in a lifetime (just think of the frequent flyer miles it earns).
They molt their wing feathers during our winter, spending much of that time resting on small ice blocks on the edge of the Antarctic pack ice.
Conservation Status: Alaska Audubon includes the Arctic Tern on its list of Common Species Suspecting to be Declining. The tern is declining on the Arctic Coastal Plain, but has been increasing on the Yukon Kuskowkim Delta.
The International Union for Conservation of Nature lists the Arctic Tern as a species of least concern, but noting that the species’ population is declining.
Similar Tern Species in Alaska: Aleutian Terns are found in Alaska, and occasionally in Kachemak Bay.
Sources of Information:
Baicich, Paul J. and Harrison, Colin J.O. 1997. Nests, Eggs, and Nestlings of North American Birds, 2nd Edition. Princeton Field Guides.
General Information: The Golden-crowned Sparrow is a common, large sparrow in the family Passerellidae, genus Zonotrichia. This genus consists of four species: Golden-crowned, White-crowned, White-throated, and Harris’s Sparrows. Both the Golden-crowned and White-crowned species are commonly found in the Homer area.
Range: Birders in Homer are fortunate to have this species as a summer visitor since it is not wide-spread – restricted in its range. Its breeding season range is limited to western Canada and Alaska. Migration takes it as far south as Baja California, spending much of its time on the western coast in weedy or brushy areas. A few birds will remain year-round in the Homer area – at lower elevations.
The Golden-crowned Sparrow is a rare visitor to the Interior West U.S. and casual in the Eastern United States.
Characteristics: Breeding adults have a distinctive, yellow fore-crown, with black stripes on each side of the crown. Besides the distinctive yellow crown, other field marks include a bi-colored bill, a gray-brown breast, with no spotting, and a pale brown rump.
Immature Golden-crowned Sparrows are similar to immature White-crowned Sparrows. One of the key distinguishing marks between the two immature sparrow species is the color of the bill. The White-crowned Sparrow has a pinkish, orange bill while the Golden-crowned Sparrow has the bi-colored bill.
Preferred Habitat: Low shrubs, dense vegetation.
Breeding Season: Pairs are monogamous during the breeding season.
Nest: Golden-crowned Sparrow build a thick cup nest generally on the ground at the base of a small, dense shrub or in a bank with overhanging plants. The nests are composed of small twigs, bark, ferns, dry grasses, and dead leaves. They will line the nest with fine grasses, hair, and feathers.
Eggs and Incubation: Three-five eggs are typically laid. The female incubates the eggs 11-13 days. When hatched, the chicks are atricial (unable to eat on their own) and naked.
Fledging: Both parents feed the young. Chicks quickly grow their downy feathers and leave the nest within 9 days, and are able to fly short distances 4 days later, thereby becoming independent.
Food Preferences: The Golden-crowned Sparrow are omnivores – they eat both plants and animals. More is known about their winter diet, than their summer diet. In the winter they eat a variety of food types, including seeds (geranium, pigweed, starwort, dock, grasses, sumac, nightshade, knotweed), fruits (apples, grapes, elderberry, olive), grains (oats, wheat, barley, corn), buds, flowers, and plant sprouts. They will also eat insects (ants, wasps, bees, moths, butterflies, beetles, terminates, and flies). In the summer it is believed they eat insects, fruit, seeds, and spiders.
Feeding Methodology: The Golden-crowned Sparrows is a ground forager, preferring to feed close to cover, gleaning for seeds or scratching leaf litter to uncover morsels. They often feed alone or in pairs.
While they are less aggressive when feeding, they do defend breeding territories (approximately 2.5 acres in size).
Migration: This bird’s entire population takes the same migration route each year – along the West Coast from its wintering grounds (anywhere northern Baja California to southern British Columbia, Canada) to its breeding grounds (in Alaska and Northwestern Canada) and back. Spring migration is April and May, while fall migration begins in late August.
Wintering Golden-crowned Sparrows can usually be found in flocks with White-crowned Sparrows. Both species winter in small numbers in the Homer area.
Song: A series of high clear whistles with a mnemonic of “I see you” or “Come see me” or even “Oh Pretty Bird”. At least that is what I hear when they sing. Try out a version that works for you.
Call: A clear “Tew”.
Flight Call: A high “seep”.
Threats: Feral and outdoor domestic cats. Other birds, such as corvids (Raven, crows, magpies, jays) will predate the eggs and chicks of a Golden-crowned Sparrow.
This species is also known as the “weary Willie” because it song sounds, to some, like “I’m so tired”.
Miners in the Yukon at the turn of the twentieth century referred to the Golden-crowned Sparrow as the “no gold here” bird, because its song resembled that phrase.
Conservation Status: The global population is estimated at 4.0 million species. The species is not on the U.S. State of the Birds Watch List nor Audubon Alaska’s Watch List. The International Union for Conservation of Nature lists the Golden-crowned Sparrow as a species of Least Concern; its population trend increasing. However, this species has had little study and it is not known how it responds to human influences. The effects of climate change on this species is also not known. With a restricted range, the bird may be vulnerable to habitat change.
Other Sparrow Species in Alaska: Common sparrow species found around the Homer area include: White-crowned Sparrow, Savannah Sparrow, and Lincoln’s Sparrow. The White-throated Sparrow, Chipping Sparrow, and American Tree Sparrow are also occasionally found in our area. The American Tree Sparrow is a common species elsewhere in Alaska, unfortunately outside of the Homer area.
Sources of Information:
Baicich, Paul J. and Harrison, Colin J.O. 1997. Nests, Eggs, and Nestlings of North American Birds, 2nd Edition. Princeton Field Guides.