Long-tailed duck nest in the Arctic

Granite spires drew me to the Brooks Range, but finding the nest of a Long-tailed duck (Clangula hyemalis) on the banks of a remote lake in a stunning mountain valley was one of the highlights of a 3 week expedition to the most northern mountains in North America.

Like most ducks, Long-tailed ducks construct their nest in a shallow depression on the ground that they line with their own down feathers. The coloration of these feathers is an important part of identifying the nest when the duck is gone. In this case it also helped that the only duck I saw on the entire trip was a pair of long-tails with a single juvenile following them around on the adjacent lake to the nest! Unfortunately it appeared that the remaining egg in the nest had failed to hatch.

Summers are very short in the arctic tundra and already by the end of July when we discovered the nest, fall was just around the corner in this remote part of Alaska. By the second week of August there was snow dusting the high peaks and the race was on for that young bird to amass the energy to begin a fall migration. 

Mountaineer Forest McBrian points to the Long-tailed duck nest we discovered on the banks of an alpine tundra lake in the Brooks Range of Alaska.

Mountaineer Forest McBrian points to the Long-tailed duck nest we discovered on the banks of an alpine tundra lake in the Brooks Range of Alaska.

Like most ducks, Long-tailed ducks build their nests on the ground and line them with their own down feathers.

Like most ducks, Long-tailed ducks build their nests on the ground and line them with their own down feathers.

A single failed egg remained in the Long-tailed duck nest. We observed the pair and a single juvenile in the nearby lake.

A single failed egg remained in the Long-tailed duck nest. We observed the pair and a single juvenile in the nearby lake.

Pacific Wren Nests (formerly Winter Wren)

Like their unreasonably large and beautiful song, the Pacific wren (Troglodytes pacificus)  has a surprisingly elaborate nest. Abundant in forested landscapes around much of the Pacific Northwest, the Pacific wren typically constructs its nest out of mosses and builds it into an existing structure such as a rootwad of a fallen tree or the hanging moss on the underside of a tree branch or leaning trunk. Nests are spherical with a small entrance on the side giving access to an enclosed chamber where eggs are laid. Occasionally nest are constructed in tree branches and appear as a spherical glob of moss. My bird nest mentor, Emily Gibson, who first introduced me to Pacific wren nests, noted that the entrance to their nests, in western Washington at least, typically are lined with tiny conifer twigs.

A Pacific wren singing from a branch above its large spherical nest in a Sitka Spruce. Hoh river valley, Olympic National Park

A Pacific wren singing from a branch above its large spherical nest in a Sitka Spruce. Hoh river valley, Olympic National Park

A Pacific wren peers out from the entrance at the side of its nest. Olympic National Park.

A Pacific wren peers out from the entrance at the side of its nest. Olympic National Park.

Note the slender conifer twigs around the entrance to the nest.

Note the slender conifer twigs around the entrance to the nest.

A Pacific wren with insects in its bill bound for young ones in a nearby nest. West slope Cascades, King County, Washington.

A Pacific wren with insects in its bill bound for young ones in a nearby nest. West slope Cascades, King County, Washington.

Similar Nests: Bushtits

Two bushtits at the entrance to their nest in the Snoqualmie Valley in western Washington. Bushtits ( Psaltriparus minimus ), a similar sized bird found in much of the Pacific Northwest as well, also build enclosed nests out of mosses and lichens. Bushtit nests are more pendulous with an entrance towards the top of the nest.

Two bushtits at the entrance to their nest in the Snoqualmie Valley in western Washington. Bushtits (Psaltriparus minimus), a similar sized bird found in much of the Pacific Northwest as well, also build enclosed nests out of mosses and lichens. Bushtit nests are more pendulous with an entrance towards the top of the nest.

Check out more photos of interesting tracks and signs of wildlife!