The taiga is an exciting ecosystem in the northern ranges. It is not as cold and hostile as the tundra, so that 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 the weather changes.
The taiga is home to many migratory bird species in the summer. Scoters, tits, flycatchers, warblers, woodpeckers, and sapsuckers are some 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.
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 adaptable and intelligent and continue to thrive across much of northern Canada and Alaska. Even some tough little passerines like chickadees 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. Many small birds will arrive in the taiga for the summer breeding season. The dense trees and vegetation are perfect for 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 enough food goes around, they can raise the next generation and return south as healthy parents.
Predators of the Taiga
Where small migratory 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 here, hunting the smaller passerines through the woods.
The small body and impressive flying skills mean it can dart around trees and into shrubs to take the 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 well in the forest, thanks to its mottled grey plumage against the tree trunks. They can still use force to reach their prey through the snow if the weather turns terrible.
Do Birds Coexist in the Taiga?
Many birds stay in the spruce forest during the summer, feeding, and breeding there relatively quickly. Many species can find 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 much 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, 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 there, too, for added flavor and protein.
Woodpeckers also make their 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 relatively easily. The other great thing about these wells is attracting 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 the glacial regions 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 head as far south as Mexico in the winter. They are hardy birds, and the spring temperature doesn’t need to be too warm 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. If you are lucky enough to see a fight between brightly colored birds, you are 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. They head south once the young are old enough and the seasons change.
The taiga is a diverse and exciting border before the tundra. The 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.
Bryan Harding is a member of the American Society of Mammalogists and a member of the American Birding Association. Bryan is especially fond of mammals and has studied and worked with them around the world. Bryan serves as owner, writer, and publisher of North American Nature.