• Winter in the Wrangells

    Wrangell - St Elias

    National Park & Preserve Alaska


Bald Eagles nest along the Copper River
Bald Eagles nest along the Copper River
R. Helkenn

With over 20,000 square miles of boreal spruce forest, muskegs, lakes, rivers, ocean shorelines, alder and willow thickets, alpine meadows, icefields, and glacial barrens, Wrangell-St. Elias provides rich habitat for many birds.

Long summer days, wide open spaces, and abundant food lure long-distance migrants through the Copper River Valley and along the rugged coastline each spring. Many stay to nest. Trumpeter swans, Canada geese, and a myriad of other waterfowl and shorebirds begin arriving in late April even before the snow melts. By early May, park forests are alive with birdsong as warblers and thrushes arrive and quickly establish nesting territories and find mates. By August, many birds are already beginning their long return to southern wintering grounds.

Willow Ptarmigan is the Alaska State Bird

Ptarmigan are masters of camouflage.

Common birds of the park's vast interior include willow and rock ptarmigan; spruce grouse; great horned, boreal, and northern hawk owls; woodpeckers such as the northern flicker and hairy woodpecker; gray jay; common raven; black billed magpie; hermit thrush; American robin; ruby crowned kinglet; yellow rumped and Wilson's warblers; white crowned sparrow and dark eyed junco.

As days shorten and the frigid winter of the Alaskan interior arrives, only the hardiest 34 species remain. Foraging chickadees, redpolls, and pine grosbeaks can be heard on all but the coldest of days.

The coastal areas of Wrangell-St. Elias contain a variety of additional species, including: Kittlitz's, ancient and marbled murrelets; harlequin ducks; black and white-winged scoters; arctic, common, and Caspian terns; parasitic and Pomarine jaegers; numerous gulls; black and pigeon guillemots; black oystercatchers. Icy Bay and the Malaspina Forelands contains an important population of Kittlitz's murrelets, a declining species that has been petitioned for listing under the Endangered Species Act.

Birds in and around Wrangell-St. Elias National Park have been surveyed as part of the North American Breeding Bird Surveys. Survey routes at Kenny Lake (near Chitina) show 93 species of birds ranging from Rufous Hummingbirds to Sandhill Cranes.

All About Birds: Visit The Cornell Lab of Ornithology to learn all about birds of North America!

Pine grosbeaks add color to winter days
Pine grosbeaks add a splash of color to winter days.
Neil Hannan

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