Most birds in Russia migrate because few birds other than crows and ravens can survive the long cold winters. Rare birds include auks and ivory gulls.

The 15 species of true geese are found mainly in the Arctic and subarctic regions. They are gregarious and can live for a long time (captive birds live up to 50 years). Canadian geese and snow geese belong to this group.

Arctic Terns

The Arctic tern has the longest migration of any bird. Every year it flies up to 40,000 kilometers (25,000 miles) between the Arctic and the Antarctic and back, with much of the flying done over water. It nests in the Arctic region. When the young are old enough to fly the whole family flies south to Antarctica. The tern’s wings are long and powerful and they can make steady headway even against strong headwinds. In their nesting areas, the terns carefully guard their eggs and young, harassing or attacking anyone or any creature that comes near.

Arctic terns begin their journeys southward from the Arctic in August,.Those that winter in Arctic Canada and Greenland fly across the Atlantic and meet those that have flown south from the Russia Arctic. Some fly to the Cape of Good Hope via West Africa. Others cross the Atlantic again to the east coast of South America and fly south to Cape Horn at the southern tip of Argentina. A third group follows the Pacific coast from Alaska to Chile. All three groups fly to Antarctica. In February they begin flying back north. The total journey is a 25,000-mile round trip. The terns occasionally land on land or the sea or an iceberg for a rest.

Male Arctic terns are big gift givers. They present gifts of small fish to females when they begin pursuing them and continue doing it through courtship and partnership process. They males also present the gifts before each copulation. This ritual shows, some have suggested, that he is a good provider.


Ptarmigan is a kind of grouse. There are 17 species of grouse and ptarmigan. They live in the temperate and colder regions of the Northern Hemisphere and are typically found in forests, mountains, tundra or moorlands.

Ptarmigan turn from brown to white in the winter and back to brown again after the snow melts. They have white feathers in the winter so they blend in with their snowy background. In the spring the white feathers fall out and are replaced with brown mottled ones so can hide in the forest or tundra. Females molt first, several weeks before the males. Males often do it after they breed. Some seem to wait dangerously long and hasten the transformation by rolling their white feathers in the dirt.

Darwin wrote about the ptarmigan and its ability to change from white to brown in his discussion of natural selection and noted the birds suffer higher rates of predation in the spring when they are still white but their world has started to turn brown. Rock ptarmigan are the favored prey of gyrfalcons who like to fly high above the tundra to spot their prey swoop down and make a final attack. One study of ptarmigans showed that third of all males were taken by gyrfalcons.

Females are very adept at sitting motionless so they can blend into their surroundings. They are almost undetectable. It is still not understood why the hens change from white to brown so much quicker than males, who are left vulnerable to attacks.

Steller's Sea Eagle

The Steller's sea eagle is one the world's most spectacular looking birds. Black, except for white stripes on its tail legs and wings, it is slightly larger than the American bald eagle, with a wingspan of up three meters, a body length of one meter, and weighing between 5.5 and 9 kilograms. They often look bigger because they often fluff up their feathers for better insulation.

Steller's sea eaglets are black and fledge in 90 days. Their striking white shoulders, tail, legs and forehead do not develop for six to eight years.

Inhabiting the frigid coastal waters off of eastern Russia and Hokkaido, Japan, they gather in the winter at Nemuro Channel to feast on small fish known as o-washi in Japan, sometimes resting on platforms of sea ice. About 6,000 to 7,000 Stellers' Sea Eagles remain, with about 2,000 gathering to feed off the northeast coast Hokkaido in the winter. Many follow fishing boats or gather in the morning near fishermen to collect leftovers.

Steller's sea eagle are named after George Steller, a German naturalist who explored the Kamchatka in the 1740s. They have been carefully studied by Russian biologist Alexander Ladygin.

Stellar sea eagles have problems with lead poisoning in their wintering ground in Hokkaido. Their main prey walleye pollack has been reduced by overfishing. Many eagles have turned to eating sitka deer carcasses left by hunters that are filled with lead shot. Environmentalists suggest requiring hunters to use copper bullets or shotgun shells rather than lead shot.

Steller's Sea Eagle

Feeding Hundreds of Steller's sea eagles gather at Lake Kurilskoye on the Kamchatka Peninsula of eastern Russia in the winter. They spend most of their time perched in the trees and come to life during the winter sockeye salmon run, the largest in Asia. Steller's sea eagles sometimes have such difficulty finding in food in winter they starve but those that gather around Lake Kurilskoye sometimes are so gorged with fish they can't fly and naturalist have caught them by hand. [Source: Klaus Nigge, National Geographic, March 1999]

Klaus Nigge wrote in National Geographic: “Steller's sea eagles eat like sibling rivals — they seldom dine alone, and few scraps of food are won without a squabble...Eagles begin each day watching for magpies and crows. Although equipped for hunting, eagles prefer to let other keen-eyed birds lead them to beached salmon. The scouts get food in return. An eagle's massive can tear open a fresh salmon's tough skin, allowing smaller birds to sneak a meal."

Some naturalist believe that the eagles fight over food because robbing a fellow eagle of food is easier than hunting. Others feel they do because they like to fight.

Nesting Steller's Sea Eagles

Steller's sea eagle's nest only in eastern Russia, in remote places like the island of Bolshoy Shantar. Nigge wrote: "Each spring eagles return to the same nest with the same partner. Favorite branches on lookout trees — ones with the best views of their nest and fishing spots — are rubbed bare by sentry duty."

"Branches, dried grass, and moss form the a ten-foot-wide platform, more than big enough for a kingsize bed. Days are silent but for the chicks; begging cries and its parents warning calls to eagles that fly to coast."

"Before the salmon run begins, the adults wade into tidepools for small fish to carry to the nest. I saw only the mother feed the eaglet. She tears food into pieces and gently holds them in front of her chick.

Blakiston's Fish Owl

Blakiston's fish owl is the world's largest owl. Found in east half of Hokkaido, Ussuri Taiga in the Russian Far East and the Russian islands of Sakhalin, Kunashiri and Etorofu, it has a wing span of 1.8 meters and measures 70 centimeters in height and weighs four kilograms. The Ainu gave it many names and revered it as a guardian of villages and a god that cries at night and protects the country. The Japanese have traditional associated owls with happiness and good luck and are fond of buying owl ornaments.

Blakiston's fish owls like most owls are nocturnal. In Japan they primarily eat freshwater fish such as “ayu” (sweetfish), salmon and trout as well as the occasional rodent. Male and females call each other with a closely synchronized “bo-bohhh”, “bo-bohhh” that sounds likes they are coming from a single bird.

Blakiston's fish owl is seriously endangered. There are about 130 birds living in Hokkaido. This is better than 1984, when there were 30 or 40. Naturalists hope the number will increase to 200 in the not too distant future. To help them they have built over 100 government-funded nesting boxes and handful of winter feeding stations, where naturalists leave out fish because the owls can not catch fish in frozen rivers. There are plans to make tree corridors to link forested areas together.

Reasons for the Blakiston's fish owl's decline include overfishing, cars, the loss of habitat thorough deforestation — particularly in old growth forests where the owls do best — and development — particularly the damming and draining rivers. The owls used to be found all over Hokkaido but their numbers began to fall in the late 19th and early 20th century when the old growth forests were cut down and the damming and channeling of rivers eliminated most of the large fish runs.

The Blakiston's fish owl is also known as the Blakiston's eagle owl. It is named after Thomas Wright Blakiston, a British businessman and amateur naturalist who lived in Hokkaido in the late 1800s, and ironically has as much to do with the bird’s demise as anyone. After bringing lumber equipment half way around the world to harvest timber in eastern Siberia he was denied permission to take the trees there in 1861 and instead came to Hokkaido where he hauled away timber from the island’s riche old-growth forests.

The Ural owls is one of the most commonly seen and heard owls in Japan. It has been said its hoot gave birth to stories for yokai monsters

Image Sources:

Text Sources: New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Times of London, Lonely Planet Guides, Library of Congress, U.S. government, Compton’s Encyclopedia, The Guardian, National Geographic, Smithsonian magazine, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, AP, AFP, Wall Street Journal, The Atlantic Monthly, The Economist, Foreign Policy, Wikipedia, BBC, CNN, and various books, websites and other publications.

Last updated May 2016

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