Alaska is a rugged, wild and spectacularly beautiful place that provides home at least part of the year to some 474 documented species of birds. A vast wilderness of snow-capped mountains and wide glacially carved valleys, tidal flats and forests, rivers and lakes, alpine tundra and glaciated peaks provide habitat for a diversity of birds.
Wonder Lake, Denali NP ©Greg Smith Naturalist Journeys
Generally rich in wildlife Alaska is famed for its top predators such as Black, Brown and Polar Bear as well as Gray Wolf, Wolverine and Canadian Lynx, but is also host to some of North America’s largest herbivores such as Musk Ox, Moose, Bison and Caribou.
Musk Ox Ovibos moschatus ©Greg Smith Naturalist Journeys
Other mammals include Mountain Goat, Dall Sheep and many smaller mammals Pika, Hares, Coyote, Red and Arctic Foxes, rodents such as muskrat, bats and mustelids. Marine mammals also abound with seals, sea-lions, walrus, cetaceans and Sea Otter.
Moose Alces alces ©Greg Smith Naturalist Journeys
Birds travel to Alaska from all over the world to breed during the short arctic summer and to feast in the abundance of available food. Alaska’s 33,904-mile coastline boasts fjords, estuaries, bays, rocky and sandy beaches, and extensive mudflats that provide fuel to migrating shorebirds and waterfowl.
Black-legged Kittiwake Rissa tridactyla ©Greg Smith Naturalist Journeys
Millions of nesting seabirds can be found along the rugged coastline of southeast Alaska and the Aleutian Archipelago. These rookeries are a delight to birder’s who come to watch the thousands of murres, kittiwakes, gulls, and puffins. In addition, Alaska’s expansive tundra provides nesting habitat for millions of migratory species such as tundra and trumpeter swans, emperor geese, brants, ducks and terns. Just as spectacular to view are the bald eagles which gather in the thousands every year to feed on salmon in Haines.
In addition to the millions of migratory birds that make Alaska their home for part of the year, Alaska hosts many specialty birds. These specialty birds include all five species of loons, four species of eiders, three species of Ptarmigan, Pacific and American Golden Povers, Hudsonian and bar-tailed godwits, all three jaegers, Aleutian terns, Arctic warbler, Bluethroat, northern wheatear, yellow and white wagtails, snow bunting, and gray-cheeked thrush. Asian vagrants such as brambling, Eurasian Wigeon, Terek Sandpiper, Siberian Rubythroat, and Hawfinch are rare visitors to places such as the Pribolof Islands on the western outskirts of Alaska.
Grizzly Bears Ursus arctos ©Greg Smith Naturalist Journeys
Whether you are coming to search out the elusive whiskered auklet near Dutch Harbor or to witness one of the largest gatherings of spring-migrating shorebirds in Cordova you will want to take your time and plan well in advance for your birding adventure in Alaska. Alaska’s size and diversity of habitats can be a challenge to visiting birders who do not know exactly when and where they want to go. Alaska has many recognized birding-tour companies offering high quality birdwatching trips with experienced local birders who can arrange trips and make sure you get the most out of your birding adventure in Alaska. Even if your trip to Alaska doesn’t take you out into the wilderness, you can do some of the finest birding in the country in Anchorage. Anchorage is the only city of its size that still has breeding loons. Breeding red-throated, common, and Pacific loons can be found on many of the city lakes and are easily accessible to birders.
Humpback Whale Megaptera novaeangliae ©Greg Smith Naturalist Journeys
The best time to visit Alaska depends on the type of birding you want to focus on. In general, the beginning of May through the end of September is the best birding season. Some of the most impressive shorebird migrations begin at the end of April through the middle of May when snow is still on the ground and temperatures can still be chilly. Breeding songbirds begin arriving in early May through the first week of June. Winter months can be the best time to observe wintering eiders, long-tailed ducks, whiskered auklets, and harlequin ducks along the coast.
Major Source: © Fatbirder
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Photo Source: © Naturalist Journeys