Okanogan Highlands Wildlife
(as seen in Tonasket’s nature-inspired murals)
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Canada Goose (Branta canadensis)
Familiar to many of us, this large migratory goose is common in our region, and frequently seen flying in a V-shaped flock, grazing in fields or along water bodies, or swimming in lakes with their fuzzy offspring in the spring. Fun fact: the four smallest forms of the Canada goose were recently redesignated as a separate species, the Cackling Goose.
Tree Swallow (Tachycineta bicolor)
Nesting in cavities along the water’s edge, tree swallows are especially active in the morning and evening, as they careen above Lost Lake, eating insects. Tree swallows breed and raise young in the Highlands and throughout Washington, and migrate south as far as Central America to winter. Fun fact: tree swallows appreciate nest boxes, especially nest boxes without a roost and with a predator guard to keep their young safe.
Great Blue Heron (Ardea herodias)
The shaggy-looking feathers in the painting of the great blue heron is an accurate depiction of the plumage of these large, statuesque wetland hunters. Great blue herons can be frequently seen, standing still and vigilant in wetlands and along streambanks in the Okanogan Highlands, and can occasionally be seen striking quickly, stabbing fish and other prey with their bills. Fun fact: great blue herons build nests high in the trees during breeding season.
Bald Eagle (Haliaeetus leucocephalus)
Bald eagles are always an awe-inspiring sight, with their huge wingspan (up to 80 inches!) and distinctive white feathered (not bald) head. At Lost Lake they can be easily found in the summer, as the breeding loons sound their alarm when bald eagles are near. Although bald eagles hunt, they are also scavengers, and will chase other predators away from their meal. Fun fact: a bald eagle’s head does not turn white until the bird is 4-5 years old.
Common Loon (Gavia immer)
Common loons, with their haunting calls and distinctive black and white coloring, are one of the iconic summertime species of the Okanogan Highlands. Northern Washington is on the very edge of loons’ breeding range, so only a few lakes host breeding pairs and young. Fun fact: common loons are heavy (up to 12 pounds!) because they have solid bones (most birds’ bones are hollow), an advantage when swimming, but makes take-off difficult.
Ruddy Duck (Oxyura jamaicensis)
Male ruddy ducks certainly have distinctive coloring, with their black hats, white cheeks and reddish bodies, not to mention THAT BLUE BEAK! Females and young don’t stand out quite so much, and the males lose some of those distinctive colors in the winter (even their bills go gray) but they all have a tendency to hold their tails up in that jaunty way. Fun fact: these ducks primarily feed at night on aquatic invertebrates, which are found in abundance at Lost Lake in the summer.
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Ring-necked Duck (Aythya collaris)
The name is ring-necked, but both males and females also have a distinct white ring near the end of their bill. Like common loons, these ducks dive for their food, but unlike the carnivorous loon, ring-necked ducks eat both plants and aquatic invertebrates. This species of duck relies on freshwater wetlands like Lost Lake for breeding grounds, placing their nests amid dense vegetation such as cattails. Fun Fact: the name ring neck comes from a brownish ring around these ducks’ neck that is quite difficult to see.
Mountain Chickadee (Poecile gambeli)
Energetic and vocal, these tiny birds are a year-round resident of Lost Lake and the Okanogan Highlands. Mountain chickadees are cavity nesters, inhabiting coniferous and aspen forests at higher elevations (as opposed to black-capped chickadees that can often be found in more deciduous habitats). Fun fact: mountain chickadees will store food when they find a stash (like a birdfeeder).
We are in need of a great mountain chickadee photo! Do you have one to share? We will photo credit you, of course!
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In the meantime, find photos and more information about the mountain chickadee here.