There is a lot of incredible wildlife here in Wrangell-St. Elias National Park & Preserve. Bears, moose, lynx, and sheep are just some of the animals that freely roam the 13.2 million acres. While these animals are what most people seek out, there’s beauty and purpose to even the smallest of creatures. And one our personal favorites is the tree swallow!
Small but mighty takes on a whole new meaning with these little guys. Weighing in at an average .75 ounces they can eat upwards of 850 insects a day, making them an absolute asset at protecting us from Alaska’s unofficial state bird – the mosquito.
Tree swallows feed on insects by quickly flying low over water. We often see them at dusk, zipping over the marsh near our base in McCarthy. They are so quick that our eyes can’t actually see them snapping up their dinner, but seeing them fly around brings us all peace knowing there is one less mosquito in the world.
How can you identify a tree swallow? The males stand out with their iridescent greenish-blue heads and backs, while the females are duller in color and most of her top feathers will be brown. Both the males and females have a white underside that starts at their chins and moves down to their breasts and bellies. They have small black bills and their legs and feet are a pale brown.
In an effort to attract more swallows, we’ve built a total of 27 tree swallow boxes! Before starting our box building project, we did a little bit of research with the help of the Audubon Society and local knowledge. One of the most important things we learned is that a tree swallow box should never be put on a spruce. Red squirrels are a predator to the swallow, and live in our spruce trees. Instinctual knowledge will keep a tree swallow from using a box that is placed on a spruce tree.
Check out the video below to see a Tree Swallow feeding their baby!
Notice the feather color? The iridescent greenish-blue indicates a male tree swallow. You might expect to see the Mama caring for the young, but both parents contribute to feeding their young nestlings.