Birds of Denali


"In McKinley Park the visitor has the rare opportunity to enjoy northern landscapes, a variety of lichens and flowers, and grizzlies, caribou, Dall sheep, perhaps a wolf or a wolverine, and a number of birds in their northern breeding grounds. Of special interest among the birds are the three species of ptarmigan, each with a specialized voice and an inclination to use it. There are shorebirds, two of which, the surfbird and wandering tattler, are of special interest because most of the nesting data on them have been gathered in the park. The arctic warbler and the wheatear, visitors from Asia, are relatively common. The golden eagle, unmolested and free, may frequently be seen soaring in the blue sky over its mountain home. May this magnificent bird and other migrants, survive the many new hazards in the south and continue returning each spring in the future, to contribute beauty and spirit to this northern wilderness."

Adolph Murie, 1963 from The Birds of Mt. McKinley


The great foresight of Adolph Murie is evident in this passage from his book The Birds of Mount McKinley, Alaska. Back in 1963, Murie realized that Denali is not an isolated island, free from the environmental hazards created by humans and that its migratory birds faced an increasing number of threats on their migratory journeys and wintering grounds. Murie was not alone in these thoughts. Back in the early 20th century, naturalists and scientists Charles Sheldon, Joseph Dixon, and George Wright all realized the importance of preserving Denali in the rapidly changing world.

Denali's avifauna includes migratory birds from all over the globe and a hardy group of residents. The abundance of birds in Denali ebbs and flows across the seasons, increasing significantly as migrants return to Denali in spring and decreasing when they depart on their autumn migration. Summer birding in Denali rewards visitors with opportunities to view these migratory species in this spectacular northern environment. Birding in winter is slim by the numbers, but high in rewards as observations of pine grosbeaks, mixed flocks of ptarmigan, and perhaps a gyrfalcon or northern goshawk awaits the hardy winter birder.

While we revere the beauty of Denali's birds, we must also acknowledge the threats to their existence. Denali's migratory birds face a multitude of hazards along their migratory journeys and on their wintering areas. In Denali, they return to ecosystems that are relatively pristine, but where the impact of humans is more prevalent with each passing day. Broad scale hazards such as persistent organic pollutants, large-scale climatic changes, and habitat loss may have long-lasting and far-reaching effects on migratory and resident birds in Denali. On a local level, increases in human activities may alter habitats and habits of different species as more and more humans visit Denali. The goal of this web page is to introduce you to some of the birds and bird habitats in Denali. We hope that this information stirs your interest in Denali's birds and fosters a strong stewardship for conserving Denali's avifauna and their habitats.

Carol McIntyre, Wildlife Biologist
Denali National Park & Preserve

Species List

Use the tool below to get a print-friendly checklist or a more thorough species list for birds in Denali.

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