USFWS
Alaska Maritime National Wildlife Refuge
Alaska Region   

Wildlife

Birds

Black-legged kittiwakes nest in dense, multi-species colonies throughout the refuge. . USFWS. Click to Enlarge

The islands and coastal lands of the Alaska Maritime Refuge are bird magnets:

  • For seabirds whose only other home is the ocean.
  • For birds migrating along Asian routes and needing to rest and eat.
  • For birds that evolved on these remote islands and breed nowhere else (called endemic species).

SEABIRDS

About 50 million seabirds nest along Alaska’s coast. Some 40 million of those nest on Alaska Maritime Refuge lands – more than found anywhere else in North America.

    Only Nest Here

    Some of the birds that nest on the refuge – including whiskered, crested and least auklets, red-legged kittiwakes, Aleutian terns and red-faced cormorants – live and breed nowhere else but in this core Bering Sea-North Pacific Ocean zone.

    Heart of Seabird Range

    Some birds, including fork-tailed storm-petrels and horned and tufted puffins, breed in other areas of the North Pacific in relatively low numbers, but the overwhelming majority breed in Alaska and on the refuge.

WINTER MIGRANTS

Some birds even come here in "winter." Millions of shearwaters nest and raise their young ‘down under’ in the southern hemisphere, but come to Alaska in their winter (our summer) to feast on our abundant ocean resources.

NEW PREDATORS CAUSE HAVOC

In past centuries, humans tipped the balance against seabirds (and other birds that nest on the ground on islands) by introducing predators – accidentally or intentionally (rats and foxes for example) – to some of the islands. Learn more about the alien/introduced mammals and what the refuge has been doing to restore the natural biodiversity and to prevent any more devastation.

BIRDS MIGRATING FROM ASIA

In Alaska, only a short distance separates North America from Asia. The refuge islands and coastal areas are some of the closest landfalls for birds in migration or blown off-course in the gale-force winds that often rip through the Bering Sea area.

    Hot Spot for Bird Sightings

    Migrants converge from all compass points. More than 90 Asian bird species have been spotted in the refuge’s Aleutian Islands, especially those from Adak to Attu. Several have been reported nowhere else in North America: yellow bittern, Chinese egret, lesser white-fronted goose, great spotted woodpecker, narcissus flycatcher, Siberian blue robin, lanceolated warbler, and Eurasian siskin.

    Frequent Fliers

    Some Asian species are spotted almost annually including the whooper swan, bean goose, an Asian form of the green-winged teal, common pochard, tufted duck, smew, common greenshank, wood sandpiper, long-toed stint, eye-browed thrush, rubythroat, brambling, and rustic bunting.

ENDEMIC TO THE ISLANDS

In addition to the seabirds mentioned above whose area of nesting is only on the refuge or nearby, several other island birds are unique.

    Success Story

    The Aleutian cackling goose is internationally famous. It’s one of the few species to be removed successfully from the Endangered Species List (2001). The tiny, mallard-size goose fell victim to hungry foxes dropped off on almost all of its nesting islands by early fur farmers from the late 1700s to the early 1900s in the Aleutian Islands.

    Next Come-back Bird

    Each of six subspecies of rock ptarmigan still nest only on one or a few islands in the Aleutians. They too were hard hit by alien foxes because they nest on the ground within easy reach and without defenses against land predators. A few Evermann’s rock ptarmigan survived on huge, rugged Attu Island. The refuge is now moving some of these ptarmigan to nearby islands where the alien foxes have been removed in hopes of restoring the islands’ natural biodiversity

VERY IMPORTANT BIRD AREAS

Thirty refuge sites have been identified as Important Bird Areas (IBA) of the Bering Sea Ecoregion under an international bird conservation program spearheaded by Audubon Alaska with Russian and Asian partners. Learn more about IBA.

Learn more

Birding Hotspots
Kittiwake Contrast
Birds Lists for the Alaska Maritime Refuge
What a Seabird Needs (traits common to many seabirds)
Bird Bios (facts about the refuge’s birds)
Short-tailed Albatross Fact Sheet (2-page pdf)
Bogoslof Birds

Last updated:September 8, 2008