Alaska is home to a wide variety of birds and with 471 species positively identified, Alaska is a popular destination for birders the world over.
Let’s start with the Gulls. Quick differences in Arctic Terns (the longest flight migratory bird) and Bonaparte’s Gulls – The Gulls have black heads and bills, whereas Arctic Terns have black heads and orange bills. The distinguishing plumage between the Herring Gull is black primary feathers (the wing tips), whereas the Glaucous-winged Gull has gray to white primaries. It is important to keep in mind that these two species interbreed and hybridize in Alaska
Mew Gulls are common on the Kenai Peninsula and in Denali National Park. They can be easily distinguished from other gulls by their small size and their yellow to yellow – green legs.
Let’s move on to the Eagles. Golden Eagles are typically seen in mountainous areas, whereas, the Bald Eagle remain along coasts, rivers, and lakes. Rarely, if ever, are Bald Eagles spotted in Denali. The younglings of the two are a little more challenging. In Golden Eagles, look for two distinct, small white patches on the underside of the wing. An immature Bald Eagle has a mottled white and dark underside on its breast and wings.
Ptarmigans are often spotted while visiting Alaska. The Willow (the Alaska state bird) and the Rock Ptarmigan are found in lower elevations of tundra, especially in shrubby areas of Denali National Park. The male Rock Ptarmigan does not possess the reddish colors to its summer plumage like the male Willow Ptarmigan. The White-tailed ptarmigan is usually found in the tundra above tree line, and often on high, rocky slopes. It can be distinguished from other Ptarmigan species by its white tail, which remains white in all seasons.
I hope I have stirred your curiosity to learn more and to visit Alaska’s birds….Only 461 to go!