Birding

 

Birders around the world know the Aleutian Islands as a spectacular destination! During the summer an estimated forty million seabirds nest throughout the Aleutians. Our ice free coastal waters shelter tremendous flocks of wintering waterfowl, and spring and fall migrations regularly bring Asian strays into the islands.

Unalaska, which is much more accessible than Attu or Shemya, gives birders the opportunity to add to their life lists a number of Beringian endemics, species seldom seen outside the Aleutians. A leisurely walk around town, a drive or tour along the road system, or a hike along the coast will take you into the varied habitats of a broad list of birds. Layers, light rain gear and waterproof boots are always a good idea.

Readily seen during the summer months are puffins, murres, guillemots, kittiwakes and cormorants, including the Red-faced Cormorant, seen only in Alaska and NE Asia. Summer is also the time to seek the tiny Whiskered Auklet, found only in the Aleutian and Commander Islands and central Kuriles. It is possible to see them from the ferry while crossing the pass between Akutan and Unalaska Island, or by taking a charter boat from Unalaska to the nearby Baby Islands. Be advised to give yourself extra "weather days" for getting out on the water, as gusts are frequent even in the summer. Other offshore species include shearwaters, petrels and Laysan Albatross, and occasionally Black-footed and Short-tailed Albatross.

A handful of songbirds are resident here, including Redpolls, Snow Buntings, American Dipper, and the Aleutian subspecies of Song Sparrow, Pacific Wren and Gray-crowned Rosy Finch. Lapland Longspurs, American Pipits, Bank Swallows and Savannah Sparrows come here to nest, as do Rough-Legged Hawks, Short-eared Owls and Tundra Swans. Bald Eagles, year round residents, are always seen about town, and are tallied in the hundreds during the community's Christmas Bird Count.

Among shorebirds are the resident Rock Sandpiper and Black Oystercatcher, and during the summer Least Sandpiper and Semi-palmated Plovers also nest here. If your timing is right, you'll see Bar-tailed Godwits in the spring and Ruddy Turnstones and Wandering Tattlers in the fall.

The challenge of winter birding has its rewards in the great flocks of waterfowl and sea ducks filling the local bays. Aleutian specialties such as the Emperor Goose, whose entire world population winters here in the Aleutians, and the handsome Steller's Eider, are easily seen and photographed from the roadways. Scoters, Long-tailed Ducks, and Harlequin Ducks are also very common. Fresh water ducks include the Eurasian subspecies of Green-winged Teal and large flocks of scaup which on occasion include closely related Tufted Ducks, casuals from Asia. During a winter walk around town, you may see Peregrine Falcons chasing Snow Buntings, and Rock Ptarmigan come down when the snows get deep. You can also see ptarmigan with their broods during summer months.

Aside from the pelagic species, almost all our birds are apt to be found close to town along the roadways, so the birding is always great (even if the weather isn't!)

~Suzi Golodoff
Author & Aleutian Naturalist

What To Bring:

Bald Eagle Where to Go:

  • Captain’s Bay
  • Mt. Ballyhoo
  • Pyramid Valley
  • Beaches
  • Open Water
  • Summer Bay

Who to contact: