Birds of Alaska: What Birders Who Travel Here Search For

Published: June 24, 2024

Every year, hundreds of birders and birding enthusiasts flock to Alaska in search of avian adventures.

The state’s rich and varied landscapes, weather, sunlight, habitats and inhabitants make it a feeding and breeding, nesting and resting paradise for resident and migratory bird species that are as diverse and captivating as Alaska’s other wonderful wildlife. For experienced birders and those who simply love the sight of unique birds in flight over wilderness and seacoast landscapes, Alaska offers birding tours and opportunities to observe and appreciate a menagerie of fine-feathered friends, from the majestic bald eagle to the quirky and colorful horned puffin and from the funky willow ptarmigan to the great grey owl – among so many more.

Arctic Tern

The birds of Alaska include year-round local residents as well as numerous migratory visitors. Among the most common birds in Alaska, you’ll find species like the hardy bald eagle, northern hawk owl and snowy owl, the vibrant Steller’s Jay, the storied raven, and the wacky willow ptarmigan, who all bask in the state’s sweet summers and boldly battle its winter weather. Summer also brings a flurry of migratory species who arrive literally from around the world. Notable migratory birds include elegant sandhill cranes, charismatic red-faced cormorants, and emperor geese.

Sandhill cranes feeding on farmland along Inner Springer Loop in Palmer. (Bill Roth / ADN)

Here are some of the most popular and special species of birds that call Alaska home – whether permanent or seasonally – and how to find them in Alaska’s wild and urban areas.

Bald Eagles – Snowy Owl – Northern Hawk Owl

Alaska Bald Eagle

A symbol of freedom, bald eagles are surprisingly large and abundant across Alaska (as are golden eagles), especially in coastal areas where fish and prey are aplenty. An Arctic icon, the snowy owl’s striking white plumage makes it a formidable predator during winter months. And the small yet fierce northern hawk owl is another of Alaska’s birds of prey, found perched on the lookout in boreal forests.

Steller Jays – Tufted Puffin – Oystercatchers – Red Faced Cormorant

Tufted Puffin

With their bright blue feathers and bold attitude, Steller’s Jays are a delightful sight in Alaska’s forests and towns. With their colorful beaks and feathers, puffins make for spectacular spotting, particularly when flapping their wings just above open seacoast waters. Other seabirds of Alaska include oystercatchers, a black and white bird that forages for shellfish along the state’s rocky shores. And the red-faced cormorant is a rare Alaskan bird primarily found on the remote Aleutian Islands, making sightings particularly special.

Willow Ptarmigan – Sand Hill Cranes – Emperor Goose

Ironically, Alaska’s state bird, the willow ptarmigan, is known for its goofy behavior and lack of concern around humans, even though it’s also known for seasonal plumage that blends it into snowy landscapes in winter and tundra in summer. And with their impressive wingspans and flock landings in various known locales, sandhill cranes make for spectacular displays during the migration season. The emperor goose has its striking plumage, too, and can be found in coastal regions during breeding season.

Willow Ptarmigan (eBird.com_

Where to Go Birding in Alaska

Alaska’s hotspots for bird watching each are known for their unique avian attractions:

Marine life and birding opportunities onboard a cruise out of Seward in Resurrection Bay.

Alaska bird festivals celebrate exploration and diverse feathered finds, drawing birders from far and wide. Here is a small sample of the many birding festivals happening across the state primarily in early spring:

Attendees at the Copper River Delta Shorebird Festival (Milo Burnam)

Perhaps surprising to many is that Alaska bird viewing can be found conveniently even in some of Alaska’s biggest urban areas including Anchorage and Fairbanks.

Anchorage, Alaska’s tourism hub and largest city, offers fantastic bird viewing, including special opportunities to spot bald eagles and/or even a rare white raven! Potter Marsh Bird Sanctuary is a must-visit for birders looking for a variety of waterfowl and shorebirds in a beautiful wetland setting. Westchester Lagoon is literally in downtown Anchorage and almost always busy with waterfowl and other birds in the summer. You might also take a walk on the Tony Knowles Coastal Trail and have opportunities to spot birds along the city’s coastline, including bald eagles and shorebirds. The Campbell Creek Estuary Natural Area hosts diverse waterfowl and songbirds, as well as diverse habitats for bird-watching. And Eagle River Nature Center, situated in Chugach State Park, is an excellent place for spotting woodland birds, raptors and, of course, eagles.

Pacific Loons at Potter Marsh Bird Sanctuary in Anchorage (

In summer, Fairbanks is the Land of the Midnight Sun and a mecca for many migratory birds. Creamer’s Field Migratory Waterfowl Refuge is famous for its spring and fall migrations, where visitors can see thousands of waterfowl and cranes in the air and in the fields. And Tanana Lakes Recreation Area is home to a mix of wetlands and forests making it a popular spot for many year round residents and migratory birds.

And if you’re visiting Sitka, stop by the Alaska Raptor Center.

Bald Eagle nesting.

Alaska’s birding scene features countless bird species and thrilling discoveries for birders checking off their Alaska bird lists as amateur to seasoned birders explore the diverse bird habitats and ecosystems across the state. Whether you’re scanning the skies, searching local waters, or hiking through wilderness in search of your next birding find, Alaska promises unforgettable birding experiences. Just pack your binoculars, camera and your favorite birding app