Wildlife Survey & Photo Service
American River Chinook Salmon
The Fall is a magical time on the American River when the Chinook salmon return to spawn. Follow the process on this page as you see video of the hook-jawed males, the gravid females, courting, nest digging (females only), egg laying, fertilization, and their subsequent death.
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Male Chinooks (bucks) move into the Central Valley in late summer through late fall. Most spawning males develop humped backs and a hooked jaw called a kype. They use those sharp teeth to chase away other males, often getting highly aggressive. I've watched battles this week on the American River between big males fighting for breeding rights with nesting females (hens).
Come back to this page to see video of females digging redds (nests), courting behavior, and males fertilizing a nest of eggs. The water in this video was full of debris due to the enormous number of salmon spawning upstream.
Female (hens) salmon move into the Central Valley rivers and begin to dig redds to see if the site is suitable for their eggs. Only the females will dig redds. No help from the males. Gravid females will be courted (pestered) by amorous males who want to fertilize her eggs. When the rock nest is complete and she is ready, the hen will deposit eggs in the gravel. After the eggs are fertilized, the female will continue to dig and cover the eggs with gravel.
The hook-jawed males form groups in the areas of redd-building females. The group in this clip had one female and nine males. Ouch! The males hang out and can engage in highly aggressive battles. I've witnessed the larger bucks lifting other males out of the water and shaking them. They know how to use those teeth. Note the scars.
The males battle each other for dominance and territorial rights for fertilizing the females eggs.
All that work. All those scars. The results really surprised me. When the moment happens, when the female signals that she is ready to lay eggs, I was really surprised what happened. I've captured that moment several times and wait until you see the results. That will be the next post.
This is it.. Migrate from the ocean to complete their life cycle, the female lays eggs and the dominant male fertilizes the eggs by spraying milt (seminal fluid) on the eggs. This was a surprise - in reality, a bunch of males participate in "milting" the eggs.
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