The taiga is an interesting ecosystem in the northern ranges. It is not as cold and hostile as the tundra, so some species can thrive here at the right time of year. Yet, it is still cold enough that most species will head to warmer climates when it gets too cold.
The taiga is home to many migratory bird species in the summer. Scoters, tits, flycatchers, warblers, woodpeckers, and sapsuckers are some of the bird species that can be seen. In the colder months, ravens, Northern goshawk, and the great grey owl can be spotted among the snow.
Migratory birds call these northern stretches of boreal forests home for the breeding season. They arrive here in large numbers, taking advantage of the time to feed and raise their young, before heading back to warmer regions on the continent. Other species will do the same in the open wetlands and glacial areas alongside.
This all leads to a habitat with great diversity in avian life for most of the year, with just a few residents staying put in the winter. Those that can find enough food can do well year-round. Ravens are particularly adaptable and smart and continue to thrive across much of northern Canada and Alaska. There are even some tough little passerines like chickadees that can handle the cold too. Predators such as the Northern Goshawk and the great grey owl thrive in winter.
Like many forest habitats across the northern hemisphere, this boreal forest is alive with activity and song in the summer. A large number of small birds will arrive in the taiga for the summer breeding season. The dense trees and vegetation are perfect for all kinds of nesting birds from thrushes and tits to flycatchers and warblers.
Each group has its preferred nesting site and source of food. While the flycatchers nimbly eat flying insects, the thrushes can seek out berries and mollusks. As long as there is enough food to go around, they can raise the next generation and return south as healthy parents.
Predators of the Taiga
Where migratory small birds are abundant, there are sure to be predatory species to take advantage of them. Predation plays a big part in their chances of survival. The sharp-shinned hawk is perfectly adapted for life in these forests. It spends its breeding season up here, hunting the smaller passerines through the forest.
The small body and impressive flying skills mean that it can dart around trees and into shrubs to take its prey. Like many other hawks, the male is much more capable in denser areas as he is smaller, while the female can hunt in more open ground.
These small hawks share the territory with other raptors like the Northern goshawk and owls, such as the great grey owl. While the hawk flies south for the winter, these other species can thrive in these forests year-round.
The great grey owl is one of the larger and most iconic species. Despite its size, it blends in well in the forest, thanks to its mottled grey plumage against the tree trunks. If the weather gets terrible, they can still use force to reach their prey through the snow.
Do Birds Coexist in the Taiga?
Many birds will stay in the spruce forest during the summer, feeding and breeding there with relative ease. Many species can find precisely what they need and coexist in these deep forests. This is the perfect home for species of woodpeckers and the yellow-bellied sapsucker. The sapsucker looks a lot like the woodpecker, with similar marking around the head and mottling on the rest of their plumage.
However, they have a different approach when it comes to finding food. They make holes in trees, with some acting as wider wells to return to and maintain. These holes allow nutrient-rich sap to leach out of the tree, and the bird “sucks” it up. There will probably be some insects in there, too, for added flavor and protein.
Woodpeckers also make their own holes while picking away tree bark to locate insects. Although these are two similar birds in the same place, their different niches make them able to coexist with relative ease. The other great thing about these wells is that they attract other forest residents. The sapsucker provides a brilliant service to some forest-dwelling mammals. Porcupines and bats will take advantage of a sap well, as will some hummingbirds.
Then there are the wetlands in the glacial areas of the boreal forest. Outside of the dense forest, there are open areas of wetlands and glacial areas that are perfect for a host of shorebirds, waders, swans, and other waterfowl.
The Northern pintail and scoter are just some of the many ducks that make it this far north in Canada and Alaska. The pintail is a handsome bird with a long-range. They breed right across the continent’s northern reaches and then head as far south as Mexico in the winter. They are hardy birds, and the temperature doesn’t need to be too warm in the spring for them to breed. The scoter spends most of its time out at sea, with many found off the taiga coasts.
A shorebird that stands out in the breeding grounds around the taiga’s wetlands is the red-necked phalarope. This little ground-nesting bird feeds out on open water and then migrates south. Unusually, if you are lucky enough to see a fight between brightly colored birds, you are actually looking at the females.
As with the taiga’s forested area, this region can be a hive of activity in the breeding months, with large flocks of all kinds of species making nests and finding food. They can all coexist in quite a small area as there is safety in numbers, and they tend to occupy different niches. Once the young are old enough and the seasons change, they head south.
The taiga is a diverse and interesting border before the tundra. There is the idea that the entire northern stretches of North America beyond civilization can be hostile and unsuitable for all but the most specialized species. While this is true for the tundra’s year-round residents, the taiga below is far more diverse in its species. It is an incredible place to see breeding birds of all kinds.