U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service

Sacramento Fish & Wildlife OfficeServing the people, conserving the fish, wildlife, and plants of California

A Unit Of The Pacific Southwest Region

Kids' Species Information

Chinook Salmon

Chinook Salmon


chinook salmon, FWS

Some are endangered, some declining, and some doing ok. Maybe you eat salmon. For sure, you have seen them in the grocery store or restaurants. You may be wondering why they are on the endangered species list at all.

The answer is that in some places like Alaska they are doing ok. In other places, including California, they are not. See this map from the National Marine Fisheries Service.

The names on the map legend often include seasons such as "winter." These are different "runs" or migrations. "Winter runs" migrate during the winter.

We consider these runs to be separate groups. We might list one run in a river as endangered and another as threatened.


Chinooks are the largest salmon. They are often called the king salmon. Adults are often over 18 kilograms. (About 40 pounds) They can weigh as much as 55 kg. (About 120 pounds) See a picture showing different salmon.

Adults average 840 to 910 millimeters long. (33 to 36 inches) They can be up to 1.47 meters. (58 inches)

Adult chinooks in the ocean have blue-green backs. Their sides are silvery. Underneath, they are white. They have black spots. See picture

Young chinooks have parr marks. These are marks on their sides that camouflage them.

salmon eating shrimp

When chinooks swim upstream to spawn, their colors change. They can be red, copper, dark brown or almost black. This depends on where they are and how mature they are.


Young eat insects, crustaceans and other small creatures. Adults eat small fish and crustaceans. (Crustaceans are things like shrimps and crabs. )

salmon swimming under fallen branches


Chinooks are born in fresh water. But they spend most of their lives in the ocean. They swim upstream to spawn. Then they die.

When salmon are in rivers and streams, they need shelter. They need logs and branches. These give them places to hide.


Hatching - See illustration

Growing Up - See illustration

  • Alevin (al-uh-vun) - A young salmon that still has its yolk sac.
  • Fry - A young free-swimming salmon.
  • Parr - The stage between fry and smolt.
  • Smolt - The stage between the parr and adult. At this stage, salmon migrate to the sea.
  • NOTE: Most chinooks don't swim directly from their birthplaces to the ocean. They stop at the border between freshwater and salt water. Here, their bodies adjust to being in salt water.

Living in the Ocean - This stage last 1 to 7 years.

spawning salmon

Spawning - Laying and fertilizing eggs. Salmon usually return to where they were born to spawn.


Birds, bears and other mammals, including humans.


Central California coast to Alaska.


Loss of places to spawn and develop. This partly due to dams. Fish ladders can help with this.

Bears fishing

Dams also affect water temperature. Salmon need cool water. Power generation makes water warm.

Lack of gravel for spawning. Construction of dams blocks gravel from coming downstream. Mining removes gravel from rivers. Various agencies are now dumping gravel in rivers to solve this problem.

Pollution. This can come from agricultural run-off, old mines and other sources. We are working with other agencies on the Iron Mountain Mine (915 KB PDF) clean-up.

Bank stabilization projects. Much of the Sacramento River has been riprapped, leveed or otherwise channeled. Young salmon prefer areas that have not been stabilized.

Inadequately screened water diversions (places where large amounts of water are being sucked out to be sent somewhere.) Young chinooks can be sucked in and killed.


Be very careful about what you pour down drains. It will go into your community's water system. See What You Can Do to Help Wildlife and Plants (201 KB PDF) for more conservation ideas.


Visit a fish hatchery

Coleman National Fish Hatchery near Red Bluff.

More National Fish Hatcheries

Feather River Fish Hatchery in Oroville.

Nimbus Fish Hatchery in Ranch Cordova.

More state hatcheries.

Visit a park

Muir Woods National Monument


Learn more about Salmon of the West from the Fish & Wildlife Service.

The illustrations on this page come from the Pacific Salmon and Steelhead Coloring Book (745 KB PDF). Don't be put off by the title. It has lots of good info. It is a PDF file so it may take a while to download.

Salmon pages made by kids:

Driftwood Elementary Why Do Salmon Swim Upstream?

Horace Mann Elementary Salmon Page

Sacred Heart Elementary Fish Friends

Credits: All images are from the Fish & Wildlife Service.

Words to Learn

Biologists call chinook salmon Oncorhynchus tshawytscha. ("on-ko-rink-us tau-wee-cha")

Scientific names are usually in Latin or Greek. Oncorhynchus is from the Greek words for hook and nose.

But tshawytscha is Russian. It is the Russian name for the species.

Chinook salmon are in the Salmonidae family.

Anadromous (uh-nad-ru-mus) fish are ones that spend most of their lives in the ocean but reproduce in fresh water.

Roe - Eggs that have not been spawned yet.

Spawn - Deposit eggs. Each female spawns thousands of eggs.

Redd - Gravel where fish bury their eggs.

Milt - A milky fluid that contains sperm.

Yolk sac - Small sac on alevin. It provides them with nutrients while they are still buried in gravel.

Parr Marks - Vertical stripes and bars on the sides of young salmon. These help to camouflage them.

Fingerling - A young fish. (Because they are about the size of a finger)

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Last updated: November 29, 2017