Alaska is home to a diverse array of bird species, offering you an unparalleled birdwatching experience. As you explore the breathtaking Alaskan landscapes, you may have the opportunity to spot some of the state’s most incredible avian residents. With over 500 documented species, including both native and migratory birds, you’re in for quite a thrilling adventure.
So grab your binoculars and camera, and embark on an unforgettable journey through Alaska’s wilderness. Keep your eyes peeled for these magnificent creatures and cherish the unique encounters you’re bound to have along the way. With such a multitude of birds waiting to be discovered, you’ll surely create memories that will last a lifetime.
21 Most Species of Birds in Alaska
Alaska is on the Pacific Coast. It’s the northernmost U.S. state and has an extensive coastline along the North Pacific Ocean. In fact, Alaska has the longest coastline of any U.S. state, stretching over 6,600 miles. This coastal region is home to a rich diversity of marine and bird life, including numerous species of waterfowl, seabirds, and marine mammals.
The Bald Eagle, the national bird of the United States, is a common sight in Alaska’s skies. This large bird of prey is known for its impressive wingspan, its white head, and its brown body. Eagles primarily feed on fish, which they catch by swooping down to the water’s surface, read our full guide to eagles in Alaska and also learn about the art of falconry in Alaska.
Common Ravens are found across Alaska and are recognized by their black plumage and large size. They are intelligent birds, capable of problem-solving and demonstrating complex social behavior. They eat a varied diet including insects, fruits, nuts, and carrion.
Known for their distinctive black and white plumage and long tails, Black-billed Magpies are resourceful and opportunistic omnivores, consuming fruits, grains, insects, and small animals.
Willow Ptarmigan (State Bird)
The Willow Ptarmigan is the state bird of Alaska. They are equipped to handle Alaskan winters with their seasonal white plumage providing camouflage against the snow. These birds primarily consume a diet of willow buds and twigs.
These small, friendly birds are recognizable by their black caps and bibs, white cheeks, and soft, gray bodies. They are common visitors to backyard feeders and are well-known for their distinctive “chick-a-dee-dee-dee” calls.
This woodpecker is often seen in forests and woodlands across Alaska. It is known for its unique flight pattern, characterized by a series of rapid wingbeats followed by a short glide.
This striking bird sports a prominent crest and is known for its bold, inquisitive nature. Found in forests, they feed on nuts, seeds, berries, and insects.
Pine Grosbeaks are large, plump finches. Males are pinkish-red, while females and young birds are grayish. They feed on seeds, buds, and berries, often in flocks during the winter.
These birds, also known as “water ouzels,” are often seen around fast-moving water bodies where they dive to catch aquatic insects. They are known for their characteristic dipping motion.
A small bird usually seen on the ground or in low bushes, they have a dark gray or black hood over their heads and a white belly. They are seed-eaters but will also eat insects during the summer months.
Snow Buntings are charming birds that breed in the high Arctic. In winter, they often form large flocks, foraging on the ground for seeds and insects.
This small, active bird is known for its habit of climbing down tree trunks headfirst. It has a blue-gray back and a distinctive black line through the eye.
Recognizable by their crossed mandibles, these birds are adapted to extracting seeds from conifer cones. Males are pinkish and females are yellowish-green.
This owl is a year-round resident of Alaska’s northern forests. It’s a nocturnal bird, primarily preying on small mammals and occasionally small birds.
These are small seabirds that nest in old-growth forests or on the ground at higher latitudes. They have a dark plumage in summer and white in winter.
This bird is a winter visitor to Alaska. It has a prominent crest and is known for its high-pitched calls. They eat berries and insects.
This predatory songbird feeds on insects, small birds, and mammals. It’s known for impaling its prey on thorns or barbed wire.
This small shorebird is recognized by its spotted breeding plumage and distinctive teetering motion. It feeds on invertebrates along riverbanks and lake shores.
This sparrow is common in scrubby habitats, its plaintive song echoing across the landscape. It has a distinctive golden crown that gives it its name. Often seen eating black oil sunflower seeds at feeders.
The most common and recognized wild duck species, Mallards are found in a variety of habitats including ponds, lakes, and rivers. They are known for their iridescent green head and yellow bill in males. Alaska Duck Hunting is a popular sport and many trophy birds are got in Alaska.
There are plenty of other birds in Alaska, indeed over 500 different species.
Alaska’s Unique Habitats
Alaska, the largest state in the U.S., offers a variety of unique habitats that support an incredible diversity of bird species.
Welcome to the Boreal Forests! Spanning over much of interior Alaska, these lush forests are predominantly composed of conifers and deciduous trees. This diverse habitat provides shelter and food resources for many bird species, including woodpeckers, chickadees, thrushes, and sparrows. As you wander through the Boreal Forests, don’t forget to look out for these fascinating avian creatures.
Next up on our journey is the Tundra, which covers a large part of northern Alaska. This unique ecosystem is characterized by its frozen soil, low temperatures, and minimal vegetation. Despite these harsh conditions, Alaska’s tundra supports a variety of birds such as ptarmigans, raptors, and several species of shorebirds. Here, you may even spot a Tufted Puffin, which is just one example of the many birds that have adapted to call the tundra their home.
Finally, let’s explore Alaska’s Coastal Areas, where you’ll find an abundance of birds thriving near the shoreline. This diverse environment offers both vast seascapes and sheltered lagoons, making it a popular feeding ground for numerous bird species. Alaska is known to host about 50% of all the shorebirds in North America, including some species with world-population concentrations.
Alaska is home to an incredible variety of bird species, making it a fantastic destination for bird enthusiasts.
Alaska boasts a diverse array of waterfowl, including ducks, geese, and swans found in the state’s many wetland habitats. You may encounter iconic species like the Tundra Swan, the Trumpeter Swan, and the American Wigeon. Some of the more rare waterfowl in Alaska are the Bufflehead and the Blue-winged Teal, which are both migratory species from North America that visit Alaska during their breeding season. You do also get pheasants in Alaska and the rare alaskan snow pheasant.
As you explore Alaska, keep an eye out for its powerful birds of prey, also known as raptors. Bald Eagles, the national emblem of the United States, are a common sight in Alaska, often spotted nesting along the coastline. Golden Eagles, which prefer more mountainous terrain, can also be found in certain areas of the state. Other raptors, such as the Northern Harrier, the Red-tailed Hawk, and the Gyrfalcon, are known to breed in this cold northern region. Alaskan Falconry is very active.
Singing their way into your heart, Alaska’s songbirds certainly won’t disappoint. Prominent species include the Varied Thrush, known for its hauntingly beautiful song, and the American Dipper, the only songbird that swims underwater. You might also spot the colorful Purple Finch, a North American songbird known for its beautiful plumage. There are 7 different types of blue birds in Alaska.
Alaska provides a unique habitat for several owl species. The Great Gray Owl, which is considered the tallest owl in North America, can be found hiding in the state’s boreal forests. Another interesting species is the Northern Hawk Owl, an uncommon bird even in Alaska, but worth looking out for due to its distinctive appearance and hunting habits.
The coastal habitats of Alaska are home to an impressive array of shorebirds. These birds, including the Least Sandpiper and the Western Sandpiper, can be seen foraging along beaches and in tidal mudflats during their migration. In addition to these smaller sandpipers, you have the opportunity to observe the elegant Red-necked Phalarope or the Black Oystercatcher, which are known for their striking appearance and fascinating behavior.
Each year, thousands of migratory birds make their way to Alaska, using various routes from different parts of the world. In this section, we’ll discuss the paths these birds undertake from Canada, South America, and Europe to get to Alaska.
Canada to Alaska
If you’re in Canada or Northern US states, you might see flocks of geese, shorebirds, and other species making their way to Alaska. Many birds fly north for the summer breeding season, taking advantage of Alaska’s rich habitats. Along this route, spend time looking for birds like the Pacific Golden-Plover, which travel thousands of miles from their wintering grounds in the southern United States to breed in Alaska.
South America to Alaska
Can you imagine a tiny bird traveling from South America all the way to Alaska? That’s exactly what some migratory birds do every year. Birds such as the Western Sandpiper embark on their epic journey of over 12,000 miles, making multiple stops for rest and feeding on their way. As you journey southward, keep an eye out for these incredible birds during their stopovers along coastlines and wetlands.
Europe to Alaska
While fewer birds migrate from Europe to Alaska compared to North and South America, some species still make the impressive journey. Alaska’s remote and unique landscapes attract birds like the Northern Wheatear, which crosses the Atlantic and North America before arriving in Alaska. To witness this awe-inspiring migration, keep your eyes open for flocks of these small birds, recognizable by their black mask, as they navigate their way to Alaska’s pristine wilderness.
Rare and Endangered Birds
The Emperor Goose is a beautiful bird you can find in Alaska. Their populations have been declining, and as a result, they’ve been considered rare. However, recent conservation efforts have helped stabilize their numbers. These birds are known for their intricate black, white, and gray plumage. If you have a chance to spot an Emperor Goose, it’s a truly enchanting sighting!
Another rare bird found in Alaska is the Kittlitz’s Murrelet. This fascinating species nests in the rocky mountain areas and feeds in nearby waters. Unfortunately, the Kittlitz’s Murrelet has experienced significant population declines due to habitat loss from a warming climate and other disturbances. While spotting a Kittlitz’s Murrelet might be a challenge, it’s a unique addition to your birdwatching list.
Last but not least, the Eskimo Curlew has been listed as an endangered species in Alaska. In fact, it is so rare that you could say it’s possibly extinct as very few sightings have been confirmed since the mid-20th century. The Eskimo Curlew was once numerous, but overhunting has drastically reduced their population. If you ever encounter an Eskimo Curlew, it would be nothing short of a miraculous sighting!
Alaska State Bird
The willow ptarmigan is an Arctic grouse, and while it may resemble a chicken, it has adapted to survive in Alaska’s cold climate. These birds can be found throughout Alaska but also in other regions such as Scandinavia, Russia, and northern Eurasia. In Alaska, you’ll encounter one more ptarmigan species, the rock ptarmigan. However, the white-tailed ptarmigan is found only in North America, and all three species can be observed in the state according to the Alaska Department of Fish and Game.
The willow ptarmigan is well known for its two distinctive looks based on the season. During the warmer months, their plumage turns a mix of reddish-brown, gray, and black, allowing them to blend well in the vegetation. Once winter arrives, they molt and replace their feathers with pure white ones. This change in coloration helps them camouflage in the snowy landscape to avoid predators.
One interesting fact about these birds is that they have feathered feet, which act as natural snowshoes. This adaptation allows them to walk on the surface of the snow and make minimal contact with the cold ground.
Bird identification in Alaska can be a fun and engaging activity, as the state is home to nearly 500 species of birds. When it comes to identifying birds by sight, pay attention to features like size, shape, color, and markings. For example, the Downy Woodpecker has a broad white stripe across its back, large black wings with a chevron pattern of white dots, black on the front, and white below its short, notched tail.
Alaska is home to a variety of bird species, ranging from the small Least Sandpiper to the striking Northern Hawk Owl. Be sure to have a pair of binoculars handy to observe any distinguishing characteristics up close. You can also use field guides and mobile apps to help identify birds you may come across during your adventures.
Listening to bird sounds can be as useful as observing their appearance when it comes to identification. Each bird species has its unique calls and songs, which they use for communication and attracting mates. Familiarizing yourself with these sounds can be a fun way to improve your birdwatching skills.
While you’re out in the Alaskan wilderness, take some time to tune into the sounds around you. You may be surprised by the variety of birdsongs you can hear. There are numerous resources available to help you learn these sounds, including recordings and apps that can be accessed on your mobile device or online.
Alaska is a paradise for birdwatching enthusiasts, thanks to its diverse ecosystems and vast wilderness areas. In this section, we will explore some prime birdwatching locations in Denali National Park, Kenai Fjords National Park, and even in your own backyard. So grab your binoculars and let’s go birdwatching!
Denali National Park
When visiting Denali National Park, you’ll have the opportunity to spot a variety of bird species that make this stunning park their home. Keep an eye out for willow ptarmigans, the Alaska state bird, which can often be found in the park’s lowland areas.
Another bird frequently seen in Denali is the majestic golden eagle, soaring high above mountain peaks. As you explore various habitats within the park, other notable bird species to look for include:
- Sooty Grouse
- Northern Goshawk (uncommon)
- Red-breasted Sapsucker
- American Three-toed Woodpecker
- Steller’s Jay
Kenai Fjords National Park
Kenai Fjords National Park is another fantastic destination for birdwatching. The park’s rugged coastline and glacial landscapes provide ideal nesting and feeding grounds for various bird species, particularly seabirds.
As you take a cruise through the fjords, be on the lookout for:
- Black-legged Kittiwakes
- Horned Puffins
- Tufted Puffins
- Thick-billed Murres
- Parakeet Auklets
The park is home to other interesting bird species such as the bald eagle, common raven, rock pigeon and peregrine falcon.
You don’t need to venture far to enjoy birdwatching in Alaska. Many bird species can be observed right in your own backyard. By providing food, water, and shelter, you can attract a variety of common backyard birds, including:
- Pine Siskins
- Black-capped Chickadees
- White-crowned Sparrows
- Dark-eyed Juncos
Setting up bird feeders and birdhouses in your backyard will not only provide a safe haven for these birds, but also allow you to observe their behavior and fascinating interactions up close. Don’t forget to keep a camera handy to capture your feathered visitors!
So whether you’re venturing into the wilderness or simply stepping outside your back door, the opportunities for birdwatching in Alaska are seemingly endless. Enjoy your time in this incredible natural habitat, and happy birding!
You might be wondering what is being done to help conserve the diverse and important bird species in Alaska. Good news – there are several organizations and initiatives working towards this goal. One key player is the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS), which has been at the forefront of landbird conservation in Alaska. They’ve put together the Alaska Landbird Conservation Plan, providing valuable guidance for conservation efforts.
Another noteworthy organization is Audubon Alaska. They’ve been working hard to identify and protect Important Bird Areas that are crucial for breeding, migrating, and wintering birds. By partnering with local stakeholders, Audubon Alaska is helping to ensure the long-term health of these critical ecosystems.
So, how can you play a part in the conservation of Alaska’s birds? A fun and rewarding way to get involved is through the Alaska Landbird Monitoring Survey. This citizen science project allows you to monitor bird populations while enjoying the breathtaking Alaskan landscape. Your data will contribute to vital research that helps inform conservation strategies.
Alaska Department of Fish and Game: You can visit their website to find the official checklist of Alaska birds, and local bird checklists from various areas around the state.
International Bird Rescue – Alaska Wildlife Response Center: This organization plays a crucial role in planning efforts for bird conservation in Alaska. Their center provides a facility for the rehabilitation of oiled and non-oiled birds with cleaning facilities, a critical care unit, clinical laboratory, and more. Be sure to check out their website for more information on their work, volunteering, and donating to their cause.
FAQS on Alaska Birds
What birds use Alaska as summer breeding grounds?
Many bird species use Alaska as summer breeding grounds due to its long daylight hours, abundant food resources, and vast undisturbed habitats. Here are a few examples:
- Sandhill Cranes: These large, long-legged, and long-necked birds migrate to Alaska during the spring and summer months to breed. They are known for their elaborate courtship dances.
- Red-throated Loons: Red-throated Loons migrate to Alaska’s tundra and coastal areas to breed during the summer. They are known for their distinctive red throat patch during the breeding season.
- Willow Ptarmigans: The state bird of Alaska, the Willow Ptarmigan stays year-round but breeds during the summer, changing its plumage to match the season.
- Puffins: Both the Horned and Tufted Puffins breed on the rocky cliff sides and islands of Alaska during the summer months. Their colorful beaks and faces make them a popular sight for bird watchers.
- Aleutian Terns: These small terns breed in coastal areas of Alaska. They are recognized by their forked tails and are known for their long-distance migrations.
- Arctic Terns: Known for their record-breaking long-distance migrations, Arctic Terns breed in the coastal areas of Alaska during the summer months.
- American Golden-Plover: These birds breed in the Alaskan Arctic and are known for their striking black-and-white plumage during the breeding season.
- Lapland Longspur: These sparrow-like birds breed in the tundra regions of Alaska, where they are recognized by their long hind claws or “spurs.”
- American Dipper: While they are year-round residents of Alaska, they breed in the summer along fast-moving streams and rivers where they dive for aquatic insects.
- Gyrfalcons: As the largest falcon species, Gyrfalcons breed in the Arctic regions of Alaska, taking advantage of the abundance of prey during the summer months.
What Winter birds are in Alaska?
Despite the harsh winters, several bird species choose to remain in Alaska throughout the year. Here are a few of these hardy winter residents:
- Willow Ptarmigan: As the state bird of Alaska, the Willow Ptarmigan is well-adapted to harsh winter conditions. They have feathered feet that act as natural snowshoes and their plumage changes from brown to white for winter camouflage.
- Common Raven: These intelligent birds are year-round residents of Alaska. Their thick plumage helps them survive the cold winters.
- Black-capped Chickadee: Known for their distinctive black cap and bib, these small birds are year-round residents of Alaska and are well-adapted to its cold winters.
- Pine Grosbeak: These large finches are residents of Alaska’s boreal forests. During winter, they can often be seen in flocks, feeding on seeds and buds in trees.
- Snow Bunting: These small passerines breed in the Arctic regions of Alaska and are known for their snow-white winter plumage.
- Bald Eagle: While some Bald Eagles migrate south for the winter, many remain in Alaska year-round, especially in the coastal areas where open water provides a steady supply of food.
- Northern Goshawk: This large, powerful hawk is a resident of Alaska’s boreal forests and can be spotted year-round.
- Gray Jay: Also known as the Canada Jay, these hardy birds are residents of Alaska’s boreal forests. They are known for their habit of storing food for the winter months.
- Bohemian Waxwing: These crested birds can be seen in large flocks in Alaska during the winter, feeding on berries.
- Boreal Owl: A resident of Alaska’s boreal forests, the Boreal Owl is active during the winter months, hunting small mammals and birds at night.
These bird species have adapted to the extreme conditions of Alaskan winters, using various strategies such as changing diets, storing food, or growing additional feathers for insulation.
What medium sized birds are in Alaska?
Alaska is home to a diverse array of bird species, many of which can be classified as medium-sized. These include:
- Northern Harrier: Known for their distinctive flight pattern and long, rounded tails, these raptors hunt rodents and birds in open areas.
- Short-eared Owl: These owls prefer open fields and marshes where they hunt small mammals, especially voles.
- Red-breasted Sapsucker: A type of woodpecker known for their red heads and breasts, they are often found in forested areas.
- American Dipper: Also known as water ouzels, these birds are often found near fast-flowing streams where they dive for aquatic insects.
- Gray Jay: These birds are also known as camp robbers due to their bold, curious behavior around human campsites.
- Northern Shrike: This predatory songbird hunts insects, small birds, and mammals from a high perch in the boreal forests.
- Varied Thrush: With their distinctive song, these birds inhabit the coniferous forests of Alaska.
- Bohemian Waxwing: These beautiful birds travel in large flocks, often feasting on berries in the winter months.
- Pine Grosbeak: These finches inhabit the boreal forests, where they eat seeds, buds, and berries.
What songbirds are in Alaska?
Alaska boasts a number of beautiful and melodious songbirds, some of which include:
- White-crowned Sparrow: Known for its black and white striped head, this bird’s complex song is a common sound in Alaskan summers.
- Varied Thrush: Recognizable for its black breast band, the male Varied Thrush’s eerie, haunting song echoes throughout the Alaskan forests.
- Ruby-crowned Kinglet: Despite its small size, the Ruby-crowned Kinglet’s bubbly and energetic song is a cheerful addition to Alaska’s bird melodies.
- Hermit Thrush: The Hermit Thrush is celebrated for its ethereal, flute-like song, which is a favorite among bird lovers.
- Golden-crowned Sparrow: The song of the Golden-crowned Sparrow is a series of clear, mournful notes.
- Swainson’s Thrush: Their song is a spiraling melody, which is often heard in the early mornings and late evenings.
- Yellow Warbler: The Yellow Warbler’s sweet, whistled song is an iconic sound of summer in Alaska.
- Savannah Sparrow: The Savannah Sparrow’s song is a series of high-pitched notes followed by a trill.
- Northern Waterthrush: They are not true thrushes but warblers, their song is a loud, clear, ringing song that fills the Alaskan wetlands.
- Fox Sparrow: Their rich, hearty song is often compared to the sound of a violin.
You will also find song sparrows, downy woodpeckers and other birds. The Song Sparrow is a year-round resident in many areas, but those that breed in Canada and Alaska tend to migrate to southern regions for the winter.