10 Sea Birds of Alaska: Discover the Winged Wonders of the North

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Alaska, the northern frontier of the United States, is a land clothed in immense natural beauty. This spectacular wildness is home to a diverse array of wildlife, particularly a rich tapestry of sea bird species that grace the Alaskan skies with their magnificent wings. From the rocky coastlines to the sprawling tundras, these winged wonders play a vital role in the ecological tapestry of the region.

In this comprehensive look at Alaska’s sea birds, we embark on an ornithological adventure, exploring ten captivating species that are as hardy and resilient as the landscape they inhabit. These birds are not just feathered inhabitants but are integral to the cultural lore and natural dynamics of the Alaskan wilderness.

The Puffin Duo: Horned and Tufted Puffins

When one envisions sea birds of Alaska, the image of the colorful-beaked puffin often comes to mind. Adorable and seemingly approachable, these birds are a favorite among birdwatchers.
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Horned Puffin: A Clown Amongst Sea Birds

Fratercula corniculata, or the horned puffin, stands out with its vividly colored bill and the little "horns" above its eyes. During the summer breeding season, these puffins nest in the cliffs’ crevices and are commonly spotted waddling around awkwardly on land.

  • Breeding Grounds: They breed along the coastlines and on the islands of the Bering Sea.
  • Feeding Habits: Horned puffins predominantly feast on fish, diving deep underwater using their wings to swim.

Tufted Puffin: The Aristocrat of Alaskan Waters

Displaying distinctive yellow tufts that sweep back from the sides of its head, the Tufted Puffin (Fratercula cirrhata) is another Alaskan treasure. These birds spend most of their life out at sea, returning to land only to reproduce.
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  • Breeding Range: Found on islands and remote coastal areas, especially in the Aleutian chain.
  • Diet: Their diet includes fish and invertebrates, deftly caught with their powerful beaks.

The Regal Bald Eagle: Alaska’s Iconic Raptor

Bald Eagle: A Symbol of Strength and Freedom

The Bald Eagle (Haliaeetus leucocephalus), with its striking white head and potent gaze, is more than just the United States’ national emblem. This majestic bird of prey is prolific throughout the Alaskan region.
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  • Nesting Habitats: Bald eagles prefer tall trees near water bodies for their substantial nests – sometimes reused year after year.
  • Role in Ecosystem: As apex predators, they’re vital in controlling populations of fish and small mammals.

The Playful Sea Parrot: The Atlantic Puffin

Atlantic Puffin: The Social Butterfly of Alaskian Sea Birds

Though less common than their tufted and horned relatives, the Atlantic Puffin (Fratercula arctica) finds a place in the Alaskan bird community. They’re often referred to as "sea parrots" due to their whimsical appearance.
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  • Habitat: They are found on the rocky cliffs of coastal Alaska.
  • Social Behavior: These birds are highly social during the breeding season, forming large colonies that buzz with activity.

The Sleek Arctic Tern: An Aerial Acrobat

Arctic Tern: The Long-Distance Migrant

The Arctic Tern (Sterna paradisaea) is marvel of the bird world, known for its incredible migratory journey that spans from the Arctic to the Antarctic and back every year – the longest migration of any bird.
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  • Breeding Areas: Their breeding grounds in Alaska are critical for raising the next generation before their epic journey south.
  • Feeding Technique: They are adept at diving and snatching fish straight from the water’s surface.

The Common Murres: Guillmots of the Northern Seas

Common Murre: The Penguin-Like Diver

Resembling miniature penguins, Common Murres (Uria aalge) are skilled divers, using their wings to propel themselves deep into the ocean in search of prey.

  • Breeding Colonies: They nest in dense, high-rise colonies on steep cliffs and can be seen precariously perched on the narrowest of ledges.
  • Survival Skills: Their black and white plumage offers excellent camouflage in the water, protecting them from predators below and above.

The Stately Black-Legged Kittiwake: Master of the Coastal Nests

Black-Legged Kittiwake: The Cliff Dweller

The Black-Legged Kittiwake (Rissa tridactyla) is a true creature of the marine environment. Its life is inexorably tied to the sea cliffs and the rhythms of the ocean.
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  • Nesting Preference: They prefer the most extreme nesting sites, where land meets the sea with dramatic intensity.
  • Foraging: These gulls are opportunistic feeders, thriving on a diet of fish and marine invertebrates, often following fishing vessels for scraps.

The Northern Fulmar: The Tenacious Voyager

Northern Fulmar: The Oceanic Cruiser

Fulmarus glacialis, or the Northern Fulmar, resembles a sturdy, chunky seagull, but it is actually a petrel. These birds spend much of their lives flying over open water, gliding on stiff wings.

  • Breeding Habits: They nest on the high cliffs and are often seen in large, noisy colonies.
  • Endurance: Capable of covering vast distances, they are one of the most widespread and abundant sea birds in Alaskan waters.

The Spectacled Eider: A Bering Sea Special

Spectacled Eider: The Diving Duck of the Arctic

The Spectacled Eider (Somateria fischeri) is a large sea duck that stands out due to the distinctive eye patches, which give the appearance of wearing spectacles.
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  • Unique Habitats: They inhabit the coastal waters of the Bering Sea and are specially adapted to the frigid temperatures and rough waters.
  • Diet: Their diet primarily consists of mollusks and crustaceans, which they obtain by diving to the sea floor.

The Glaucous-Winged Gull: The Arctic Omnivore

Glaucous-Winged Gull: The Opportunistic Feeder

Lastly, the Glaucous-Winged Gull (Larus glaucescens) is a large and assertive bird commonly seen patrolling the shorelines of Alaska, often in mixed flocks with other gulls.
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  • Flexibility in Diet: They eat a wide variety of foods, from fish and marine organisms to waste from human habitations.
  • Adaptability: These gulls have adapted well to human-altered landscapes, making them a usual sight even in populated areas.

In closing, Alaska’s sea birds are as much a part of this northern paradise as the glaciers and mountains themselves. They are representatives of the robust and resilient spirit that seems to permeate every aspect of Alaskan wildlife. Each species, with its unique adaptations and behaviors, contributes to the rich biodiversity and ecological complexity of the region.

Through this exploration of sea birds in Alaska, we gain not just a greater appreciation for these incredible animals but also insight into the critical importance of preserving their habitats. These winged wonders, from the comical puffins to the majestic eagles, serve as a reminder of our planet’s intricacies and the shared responsibility we hold in safeguarding these ecosystems for future generations to marvel at and cherish.

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