Know Your Birds, Part 2

1.Raven. Ravens can be found all over North America from the northern forests to the deserts. Ravens have accompanied people around the Northern Hemisphere for centuries, following their wagons and hunting parties in hopes of a quick meal.  These corvids are among the smartest of animals, smarter than dogs, and perhaps as smart as dolphins. They can use tools, figure out locks, and know that the sound of a gunshot means an easy meal.  The ebony birds have a complex language they use to communicate with each other. One can often watch Ravens "surf" on the wind currents or play a game of chase as they quork and yell. Ravens will eat just about anything they can find from left out dog food, berries, other birds eggs, and of course discarded fast food. Ravens mean many different things in different cultures. In Norse mythology, Odin has two Ravens that fly over the world each day to gather information for him.  They are monogamous and form long-term pair bonds. Pairs typically stay together year-round. Their nests are about 5 feet by 2 feet tall and they lay 3 to 7 eggs. 
2.Bald Eagle. Eagles are the most iconic symbol of freedom.  Where I live I see them almost every day. In the spring the Arctic Terns will dive-bomb them as they sit motionless on the top of a tree surveying their territory. They are the masters of their domain and when you see one soaring overhead it reconnects you to the raw beauty of nature.  Rather than doing their fishing, they are like pirates of the sky, snatching fish from other birds like Osprey and even humans.  For the first four years of their life, they are nomadic with some Eagles from California found wandering up to Alaska.  They eventually find a mate and are monogamous but spend the winter and migration alone until they meet up with their mate again at their nesting site. These nests are fixed up and added to each year and can become quite large, up to six feet tall and six feet wide.  They spend about two and a half months raising the young. Eagles can be found all over the United States from Alaska to the Mexico border.  They live 20 to 30 years.
3. Trumpeter Swan. Early spring is the time to see the first Trumpeter Swans arrive in the northland.  Their distinct trumpet call lets me know they have arrived at my lake. After the age of four, they find a mate and stay together throughout the year, even while migrating. Trumpeter Swans mate for life and I like to think the ones that arrive at my lake each spring are the same mating pair I have seen for years.  The husband and wife swim side by side bobbing their heads up and down reaffirming their bond.  Some males who have lost their mate do not mate again.  They were once endangered, almost driven to extinction in the early 20th century but are doing well now.  They are six feet in length and have a wingspan of eight feet. They are North America's heaviest flying bird weighing about twenty-five pounds and live about twenty-six years.   
They build their nests in a location surrounded by water such as on islands or old muskrat and beaver dens. Trumpeter Swans lay three to eight cream-colored eggs. Unlike other birds, they do not feed their young, instead, they stir up the sediment which causes aquatic vegetation and invertebrates to rise to the surface which the cygnets then eat.
 4. Snowy Owl. One would think that living in Alaska, one would see Snowy Owls everywhere.  It seems that this is true for some people but unfortunately for me, I am not so lucky.  Finally, after living here for 20 years while driving over the hay flats of the Matanuska Valley I spotted one chasing a Raven. Look for them in wide-open areas often perched on fence posts or telephone poles. These owls are very patient, often sitting for hours in the same spot occasionally swiveling their head looking for food, blinking their large yellow eyes to get a better view of any movement. Their diet includes rodents, rabbits, wading birds, and squirrels. The male, during the mating season, will rise in the air above his mate with exaggerated wingbeats holding a rodent in his beak or talons, then descend to the ground dropping the rodent for the female to inspect. They nest on the ground and have 3 to 11 eggs. To defend themselves they have been known to attack wolves and even humans.
Artwork by Douglas François Girard. You can order prints of birds, Alaska landscapes, dancers, and myths at Subscribe to my newsletter for 20% off. Please follow me on Facebook and Instagram @studiogirard.