Nature & Science: Birds
Katmai is located on the northern Alaska Peninsula. This is one of the best areas in North America to watch birds, especially during the spring migratory and summer breeding seasons.
Extending west and southwest of Katmai is the open and wet tundra of the Bristol Bay lowlands. This area is littered with countless lakes, ponds, and wetlands, which serves as productive nesting sites for shorebirds like greater yellowlegs and Hudsonian godwits, and waterfowl like tundra swans and many species of ducks.
The interior of Katmai offers a diverse range of habitats including alpine tundra, forests, shrub thickets, lakes, rivers, and lowland marshes. In summer, passerine birds like thrushes, warblers, and sparrows are very abundant.
Salmon spawning streams attract ducks like mergansers and common goldeneyes as well as scavengers like ravens, black-billed magpies, glaucous-winged gulls, and eagles. Loons and grebes nest on marshy shorelines of lakes and ponds. The arctic tern, a 20,000-mile annual commuter, breeds on exposed lakeshore gravel bars.
On Katmai’s Pacific coastline, birds are very abundant throughout the year, but the species composition changes dramatically from summer to winter.
Black oystercatchers are a common and conspicuous member of intertidal marine communities. Horned and tufted puffins, black-legged kittiwakes, other gulls, and common murres can be found in breeding colonies on rocky headlands and offshore islands. In the winter, few of these birds are present, but common goldeneye and harlequin ducks become very abundant.
Bird diversity and abundance on the Alaska Peninsula is highest in spring, summer, and fall, but many species are year-round residents, even in the interior of the park. Spruce grouse can be found in Katmai’s dense forests. Rock and willow ptarmigan inhabit more open uplands.
Great-horned owls begin nesting in late winter and bald eagles hunt and scavenge for food in areas where they can find open water. Ravens, gray jays, and magpies also inhabit the area year-round. Even small passerine birds like black-capped chickadees, boreal chickadees, and common redpolls brave winter’s subzero temperatures.
A draft list of birds documented on the northern Alaska Peninsula is available at http://www.fws.gov/uploadedFiles/birdlist_2010.pdf. More information on how Katmai’s birds are inventoried and monitored can be found on the Southwest Alaska Network’s website.
Did You Know?
The 1989 Exxon Valdez oil spill heavily impacted Pacific coast of Katmai National Park. Although the spill occurred over 250 miles away, more than 1055 tons of oiled debris was removed from the park’s shores. In some areas, oil can still be seen today.