Alaska, the Last Frontier, a land synonymous with expansive glaciers, majestic mountains, and awe-inspiring auroras. Yet, this breathtaking realm holds another treasure within its vast wilderness – an enchanting world of birds that mirror the Alaskan sky in their plumage.
Prepare to embark on a journey that will bring you closer to these avian wonders and leave you with a deeper appreciation of Alaska’s vibrant natural world.
|Species||Commonality in Alaska||Best Time to See||Where to Find|
|Steller’s Jay||Common||Year-round||Southern coastal regions and forests|
|Tree Swallow||Common||Summer (April – September)||Throughout Alaska, often near bodies of water|
|Violet-green Swallow||Common||Summer (April – September)||Throughout Alaska, prefers open forests and areas near water|
|Belted Kingfisher||Common||Summer (April – September)||Throughout Alaska, particularly near bodies of water|
|Barn Swallow||Common||Summer (April – September)||Throughout Alaska, often near human habitation|
|Cliff Swallow||Common||Summer (April – September)||Throughout Alaska, often near cliffs and human structures|
|Mountain Bluebird||Less common||Summer (April – September)||Southern regions of Alaska, particularly in open country|
Steller’s Jay (Cyanocitta stelleri):
The Steller’s Jay is a prominent bird recognized for its striking colors, sharp call, and intelligence.
Appearance: The Steller’s Jay exhibits a bold combination of dark blue and black shades, creating a striking appearance. It features a prominent crest on its head, a trait that it shares with other types of jays. The majority of its body, including the wings and tail, is a vibrant blue, while the head and upper body are a darker, almost black color.
Diet: The diet of the Steller’s Jay is diverse, as it is an omnivorous bird. It feeds primarily on nuts, seeds, fruits, and insects, but will also eat eggs and small animals when available. This adaptability allows it to thrive in a range of environments, from forests to suburban backyards.
Reproduction: Steller’s Jays are monogamous birds, usually forming long-term pair bonds. They build nests in trees, often in conifers, where they lay a clutch of typically 2 to 6 eggs. Both parents share in the responsibility of incubating the eggs and caring for the young.
Tree Swallow (Tachycineta bicolor):
The Tree Swallow is a graceful bird known for its beautiful coloring, agile flight, and nesting habits.
Appearance: Tree Swallows are slender, streamlined birds. The males are most recognized for their vibrant, iridescent blue-green upperparts, contrasting sharply with their clean, white underparts. Females, while less vivid, still display a toned-down version of the male’s coloring, with gray-brown upperparts and white underparts.
Diet: The diet of the Tree Swallow consists mainly of insects, which they expertly capture in flight. They are capable of consuming a significant quantity of insects, making them beneficial for pest control. During the non-breeding season, they also eat a considerable amount of berries and fruits, particularly bayberries.
Reproduction: Tree Swallows are cavity nesters, typically choosing old woodpecker holes or man-made nest boxes to lay their eggs. The female Tree Swallow is primarily responsible for building the nest and incubating the eggs, which typically number between 4 to 7. Both parents participate in feeding the chicks until they are ready to fledge.
Violet-green Swallow (Tachycineta thalassina):
The Violet-green Swallow is a small, sleek bird known for its dazzling colors, agile flight, and interesting nesting habits.
Appearance: Violet-green Swallows are striking birds, with the males exhibiting a metallic green back and a purple rump, giving them their name. The underparts are bright white. Females are similar in coloration but tend to be less intensely colored. Both sexes display white “eyebrows” and cheek patches, adding to their unique look.
Diet: Violet-green Swallows feed primarily on flying insects, which they capture in flight. Their diet includes a variety of insects such as flies, bees, wasps, and ants. During the non-breeding season, they have been observed feeding on berries as well.
Reproduction: These swallows are cavity nesters, often choosing holes in dead trees or nest boxes to lay their eggs. They are also known to occasionally nest in cliff crevices or under building eaves. The female Violet-green Swallow is responsible for incubating the eggs, which range in number from 4 to 6. Both parents participate in feeding the young until they are capable of flight.
Belted Kingfisher (Megaceryle alcyon):
The Belted Kingfisher is an unmistakable bird known for its distinctive appearance, unique hunting style, and interesting nesting habits.
Appearance: Belted Kingfishers are robust birds with large heads and strong bills. They display a blue-gray body contrasted by a white collar and a distinctive band, or “belt,” across the chest. Uniquely, the female is more brightly colored than the male, having a secondary chestnut-colored belt across her belly which is absent in males.
Diet: As their name suggests, Belted Kingfishers are expert fishers. They predominantly feed on fish, along with a variety of aquatic creatures like crayfish. They can be often spotted hovering above water bodies before diving headfirst to capture prey.
Reproduction: Belted Kingfishers are cavity nesters, but rather than utilizing trees, they excavate their nests in earthen banks, usually adjacent to water. The female lays a clutch of 5 to 8 eggs. Both parents share the duties of incubating the eggs and feeding the young.
Barn Swallow (Hirundo rustica):
The Barn Swallow is a widespread bird notable for its sleek body, swift flight, and unique nesting preferences.
Appearance: Barn Swallows are characterized by their streamlined bodies and long, forked tails and pointed wings. The back and wings are a glossy steel blue, while the underparts are a pale or tawny color. A distinct chestnut-colored patch on the face and neck adds to their recognizable appearance.
Diet: Barn Swallows feed mainly on flying insects, which they catch in the air with remarkable agility. Their diet includes a variety of insects such as flies, beetles, and mosquitoes, making them beneficial for pest control.
Reproduction: True to their name, Barn Swallows frequently build their cup-shaped mud nests in man-made structures like barns, sheds, and under bridges. The female typically lays 4 to 5 eggs, and both parents share the responsibility of incubating the eggs and feeding the fledglings.
Cliff Swallow (Petrochelidon pyrrhonota):
The Cliff Swallow is a small, sociable bird known for its distinctive appearance, communal nesting habits, and agile flight.
Appearance: Cliff Swallows have a square-tailed, compact body with a dark, iridescent blue back and a cream-colored underbelly. Their most distinctive feature is a bright, rusty-red patch on their forehead, contrasting with a white patch just above the bill.
Diet: The diet of Cliff Swallows primarily consists of flying insects, which they skillfully catch on the wing. They favor a variety of insects including flies, beetles, and wasps, and their agile flight allows them to consume a large number of pests.
Reproduction: True to their name, Cliff Swallows build gourd-shaped mud nests on vertical walls or cliff faces, often forming large nesting colonies. These birds show cooperative behavior, with both parents involved in nest-building, incubation of the 3 to 6 eggs, and feeding of the young.
Mountain Bluebird (Sialia currucoides):
The Mountain Bluebird is an eye-catching bird renowned for its vibrant color, fluttering flight, and preferred high-altitude habitats.
Appearance: Mountain Bluebirds exhibit a stunning sky-blue color, most intensely seen in males, who boast an almost completely blue body. Females, while also blue, are more pale blue in their coloring, with a gray cast and touches of blue on the wings and tail.
Diet: The diet of the Mountain Bluebird primarily consists of insects and berries. They are often seen in a hover-hunting style of flight, where they flutter above the ground before swooping down to snatch insects. During the colder months, they supplement their diet with fruits and seeds.
Reproduction: Mountain Bluebirds are cavity nesters and often take advantage of old woodpecker holes or artificial nest boxes. The female builds the nest and lays a clutch of 4 to 6 eggs. Both parents share in feeding the chicks, although the female does most of the incubating.
Conservation Efforts for the Birds in Alaska
Despite their resilience and adaptability, these blue birds face several threats. Let’s explore the ongoing conservation efforts and how you can contribute to preserving Alaska’s vibrant birdlife.
Threats to Birds in Alaska
From habitat loss to climate change, the blue birds and other birds in in Alaska face numerous challenges. Understanding these threats is the first step towards their conservation.
Top Birdwatching Spots in Alaska
The wild, pristine landscapes of Alaska offer some of the best birdwatching opportunities in Western North America. To catch sight of our blue-hued friends, several spots top the list.
Potter Marsh Bird Sanctuary, located in the southern part of Anchorage, is a haven for many species, including the Barn Swallow and Belted Kingfisher. This wetland area is accessible year-round and provides bird blinds and boardwalks for optimal viewing.
For the Violet-green Swallow and Cliff Swallow, a visit to Denali National Park during the summer is a must. The park’s vast expanses of wilderness, crisscrossed by numerous rivers and dotted with ponds, make it an ideal habitat.
Steller’s Jays are commonly found throughout the Tongass National Forest, especially near the Mendenhall Glacier Visitor Center. The forest’s moss-draped trees and glacier-fed waters create a lush habitat for these vibrant birds.
The Mountain Blue bird, though less common, can sometimes be spotted in the open country around the Kenai Peninsula during the summer months.
Birdwatching Tips for Beginners
Whether you’re a novice or a seasoned birdwatcher, some tips can enhance your birdwatching experience. Let’s explore some handy pointers.
FAQs on Bluebird Species in Alaska
Why are some birds blue?
The blue coloration of birds is the result of how their feathers interact with light, not because of pigments as in many other animals. This phenomenon is known as structural coloration.
In birds with blue feathers, the color arises from the structure of the feather itself. These feathers contain a layer of cells that have tiny structures within them that can scatter incoming light. When light hits these structures, all colors of light are absorbed except blue, which is reflected back, making the feathers appear blue.
It’s important to note that this is different from many other colors seen in birds. For instance, the reds and yellows in many bird species are due to pigments known as carotenoids, which the birds obtain from their diet.
The particular shade of blue that we see in a given bird species can vary based on factors like the exact structure of the feathers and the quality of light under which we’re viewing them.
How many species of birds are there in Alaska?
Alaska is home to over 500 bird species, showcasing an astonishing diversity in size, shape, color, and ecological role, some are a small bird whilst there are very large birds in Alaska.
Are all these seven blue birds native to Alaska?
The seven bird species you’ve mentioned – Steller’s Jay, Tree Swallow, Violet-green Swallow, Belted Kingfisher, Barn Swallow, Cliff Swallow, and Mountain Bluebird – are all found in Alaska, although their distribution within the state and the times of year they are present can vary.
- Steller’s Jay: This bird is found throughout most of the forested areas of Alaska (particularly deciduous trees), unlike blue jays which don’t venture that far north.
- Tree Swallow: Tree Swallows are summer visitors to Alaska, where they breed before migrating south for the winter.
- Violet-green Swallow: Like the Tree Swallow, Violet-green Swallows are migratory birds that spend the summer months in Alaska for breeding.
- Belted Kingfisher: Belted Kingfishers are widespread across Alaska during the summer months, though they move to warmer climates in winter.
- Barn Swallow: Barn Swallows are common in Alaska during the summer, but migrate south for the winter as you can see on the barn swallow range map.
- Cliff Swallow: Cliff Swallows are also summer visitors to Alaska, breeding there before migrating south.
- Mountain Bluebird: Mountain Bluebirds have a more limited range in Alaska and are primarily found in the southern and eastern parts of the state during the summer, sometimes seen with Western Bluebirds. They spend their winters in central mexico.
Why is bird conservation important in Alaska?
Bird conservation is crucial in Alaska due to the region’s rich avian diversity. Birds play significant roles in ecosystems, such as pest control and seed dispersion. Their decline can indicate ecological problems.
What can I do to help conserve bird populations in Alaska?
There are several ways to aid bird conservation, such as supporting local conservation organizations, adopting sustainable practices, and spreading awareness about bird conservation issues.