From the sea to the land and now to the sky – what birds await for Alaska’s visitors? Birds are a vital part of the Alaskan ecosystem, so that we couldn’t leave them behind. There are plenty of birds to enjoy in Alaska. However, they go and migrate in winter and head to sunnier and warmer locations. They will be back in the summer, though. You’ll observe things like the taiga bean goose, the tundra swan, the long-tailed duck, and the Canada goose. Not only those, but you will also see the grouse, quails, albatrosses, pelicans, and more.
Alaska is the best place for bird watchers to see a diversity of habitats, with many species having different migration routes and many wildlands to choose from. From rainforests of the Southeast to the Arctic, there are many habitats filled with surprises and almost 500 bird species. Before taking the adventure of a lifetime, it’s good to make a list of all the birds you want to see and enjoy to the fullest, and choosing a season to visit is also very important. Just sitting in a backyard is sometimes more than enough to find the aviary rockstars of the Alaskan sky.
Alaska is home to the largest population of bald eagles in the United States. They have around 30,000 of this type of bird. You’ll see bald eagles most commonly along the coast and near the interior lakes and the rivers. These beautiful creatures are Alaska’s largest bird of prey that you will see, with a wingspan of approximately 7.5 feet and weighing between 8 to 14 pounds. Most of these bald eagles will remain in Alaska during the winter, but they will move down south. Some of them will altogether leave Alaska, though. If you’re looking for a high density, you’ll find their nests on the islands of Southeast Alaska.
There are interesting things about those nests, they have to rebuild the same one every year, and they do it in the same place. This massive bird of prey’s diet consists mostly of fish, like salmon, flounder, and pollock, and feed on small mammals, sea urchins, and crabs. Sometimes while hunting off the coast for some fish, you can see them using their wings to row when swimming and giving it more control. Sometimes when they catch a fish that is too big to fly with, they just swim to shore and have a feast!
They have chosen this area because they nest in the old-growth timber found lining the saltwater shorelines. They also love to nest in the old cottonwood trees, which are located near water sources. The bald eagle is known for its white head, which takes about five years to develop. This bird is Alaska’s most giant bird of prey, with an impressive wingspan of 7.5 feet. However, their colors were not always like that. Younger bald eagles are entirely different, their head and tail are mostly dark, and their bodies and wings are mottled white with brownish colors.
It takes them about five years to get their signature white head and tail and darker body and wings. Something very interesting is that they are not bald in any way, not even when they were younger. The name comes from an older meaning of the word “bald,” which meant “white-headed.” These beautiful creatures were almost at the brink of extinction. However, decades of preserving their habitat and protection came into fruition when taking out the list of endangered species in 2007. You’ll only find these birds in North America, so make sure you keep an eye out.
From the sky and back to Earth, it’s time to meet the Alaska moose. You will find these creatures all over Alaska as they inhabit many different places. They are also the largest of the North American moose subspecies, with an adult male weighing around 1,600 pounds, and they can be up to over 6 feet tall. Their iconic antlers are only carried by the males and are produced every summer after the first pair of antlers have grown when they are between 10 to 13 years old. When it’s mating season, the males sometimes get into a fight where it ends in one dying and the other getting the female.
The Alaska moose is also a solitary creature in nature. They only tend to come into contact with each other when it is time for the mating season. This action happens during autumn and winter. They are usually very gentle animals and are not aggressive to humans. However, while in mating season, they can attack with no warning to any animal like wolves, deer or bears, or even humans that come too close. So next time you go to Alaska’s wilderness, always remember to keep your distance if you see one of these amazing creatures.
Since this species is the largest moose, you won’t be surprised to hear that they eat more food than black bears to maintain their bodies. They are herbivores, but they eat a tremendous amount of food each day. It sometimes adds up to 73 pounds each day. In winter, this goes down to about 34 pounds, which is still a considerable amount. Ecologists call them “browsers,” which means that they just eat the leaves and the fruits from tall and woody plants. They also love aquatic plants as a snack.
However, the moose’s favorite food is mostly terrestrial vegetation. Some of their favorites are tree shoots from willow and birch, and sometimes they incorporate berries for a sweet touch. Since they don’t have upper teeth, they need to use their eight sharp incisors and tough tongue to chew their food. With all the food they need every day to maintain a healthy weight, these moose are almost the forest rulers, and they need to be protected at all cost since they have a low risk of being threatened for extinction.
They also love to eat garden shrubs and completely devour everything from the apple trees found in town. Black bears only eat 18 pounds of food each day, which means that a moose eats more than four times, so they have to spend most of the day finding food to keep themselves in shape. Sometimes they use the antlers during mating season to get the female’s attention by rubbing their antlers on trees which sometimes can end with the tree falling. Those beautiful horns are extremely practical and are the most important tool the moose has to survive.
The males will shed their antlers every winter and grow a new and impressive pair in the spring to be ready for the mating season. Each time the antlers get bigger and better. They grow from being spikes into what has become the famous paddles that make this moose so notable. The locals tend to go hiking to find these antlers to sell or make beautiful jewelry and even hunt weapons like knives and bowheads. Depending on the antlers’ size, they can cost big bucks if you want to have them as decorations and even more if you find the pair from the same moose.
For a creature that is not as impressive as the Alaskan moose, it is just as unique to Alaska’s mountain ranges. It is the Dall Sheep. These animals are found in the subarctic mountain ranges in the state. The Dall sheep are distinctively different from other sheep because of their massive yellow and brown colored horns. Even the females have horns, but not as big as males, and they are slender and less curved. This Alaskan animal also has a dark brown or white coat. They fill themselves with all the food they can find in summer, and what is left for them in winter?
When rams reach three years, they start looking like ewes until their horns keep growing, and they are easier to recognize. What’s interesting is that their horns keep growing during spring, summer, and early fall. However, they stop growing in the late fall, or winter which gives the horns a very cool pattern of rings called annuli spaced along the length of the horn, and researchers use them to determine the animal’s age. Their lifespan is around 16 years for the dall rams and 19 years for the ewes.
They can still sustain themselves in winter, but it is on different foods to their summer diet. Since they have more food choices during the summer seasons, with lots of plants around, they tend to consider their habitat their own salad bar. Nevertheless, during the winter, the story is quite different but enough to adapt and survive the cold weather. Their winter diet includes mosses, lichens, dry and frozen grass, and even some frozen plants. Each animal has learned to adapt according to the season they are living in.
Unfortunately, these sheep fall victim to predators in the area, such as coyotes, wolf packs, black bears, and grizzly bears liking to snack on young sheep. It’s all part of the circle of life, and they are not high up on the food chain in Alaska, but they’re a sight to see regardless. Fortunately, because of their habitat’s remoteness, it’s not easy for predators to get in. Thus, they are at least a bit protected from them, and it’s an advantage when they want to protect themselves. The increase in human population in the area may also cause some problems for the Dall Sheep, and the Alaska Department of Fish and Game is working hard to protect this species.
Another unassuming animal that you may stumble upon in your trip to Alaska is the Porcupine caribou. This Alaskan animal is a caribou subspecies that lives among the animals in Alaska. They have these massive concave hoofs necessary to support the animal in the snow and soft tundra and work as paddles for when they need to swim. They tend to live in large herds of about 169,000 animals. The porcupine caribou even embarks on a migration. It’s not just a small migration, but an extremely long one. It is approximately 2,400km from where their wintering area is to their calving grounds.
This type of caribou is the only member of the deer family that both sexes grow antlers, but they are easy to identify because of their sizes. An adult bull is large and bulkier, and the adult cows are shorter and usually irregular and thinner. Their size and weight are different depending on the area they live in. The ones in northern and southwestern Alaska tend to be smaller than those that live in the state’s interior and southern parts. However, their average weight is still big, with an adult bull weighing from 350 and 400 pounds while the females can average around 175 to 225 pounds.
Their calving grounds are near the Beaufort Sea, but they make this journey each time they need to. The migration of the Porcupine caribou is considered to be the longest land migration of terrestrial mammals. They prefer places where there are not trees and in open spaces like the coastal tundra. Every year they move around the same area, but sometimes they change their route after having the same one for many years to places where they can find more food. It can bring a problem for the Native people who has caribou as part of their diet.
Depending on what time of year it is, you will see them in different locations according to their migration pattern. They are herbivores and feed on insects, flowers from the tundra, and when this declines, they move out and continue to feed on willow leaves and mushrooms. They are always in constant movement looking for better food places, and sometimes they travel up to 400 miles between summer and winter looking, especially if it’s a bigger herd. It’s all about adapting to their environment to survive, and these beautiful creatures know well how to do it.
What else will you find in Alaska in terms of wildlife? You will see the mountain goats withstand extreme weather conditions thanks to their very thick woolly and white coat. They also have long black horns and beards. Mountain goats live in the mountain ranges of southeastern Alaska and live an insane 13,000 feet above sea level and sometimes higher. They don’t often migrate to lower levels and tend to feed on grasses and plant matter that they find. What’s interesting is that they remain one of the least- studied large mammals in North America.
Sometimes they might get confused with Dall goats, but very rarely, you’ll see both goats and sheep in the same mountain area. The best way to distinguish them is by their horns. Dall sheep have black horns while mountain goats have smaller ones. The goats begin shedding their winter coat in June, and by July, their new coat is ready to show off, and their winter coat grows back as soon as the first winter snowfalls around mid-October. Both males and females have horns, but they are slightly different, and also male goats are 40% larger than females.
Although there are more majestic animals to discover in Alaska, one of our favorites is the wood bison. This Alaskan animal is one of the two subspecies of the American bison, and it’s the largest of the two. An adult male bison stands at about 6 feet tall and weighs a mammoth 2000 pounds or more. The females are smaller than the males, but they even weigh about 1200 pounds. The wood bison has curving horns that grow to point upwards and beard-like hair growth on their chin. They are also very social, and they tend to be together in groups of 20 to 60 cows and bulls.
When the bulls grow, they move to a smaller group or stay separated from the rest of the big group until the late summer when the breeding season starts. Speaking of that, a female bison sexually matures around two years old, and they can give birth to their first calf by year three, and generally, they have a single calf twice every three years. Just like humans, they are pregnant for nine months. Those newborns are ready to walk 30 minutes after being born and are ready to kick any predator that wants to attack it within a few hours.
Their heads and shoulders are relatively large, especially when you compare them to the rest of their bodies. It gives them quite an intimidating appearance. They also have a hump that rises from the neck and slopes down to their hips. The wood bison have evolved to use their head to sweep through the snows so that they can still have access to grasses in the wintertime. It’s also interesting that their hair is quite like that of a human and is soft and durable. Researchers have found that wood bison is more primitive in the phenotype than the common plains bison. However, it’s unknown if they preserve the original phenotypes from the 1920s.
Comparing the evolution of both wood and plains bison, even if wood bison is heavier and bigger, the plains bison can run faster and reach up to 40 miles per hour. Sadly, wood bison are a threatened species, mostly because of hunting, and in the early 1900s almost went extinct. Today they are still fighting to preserve the species with many programs that so far have been successful. They are about seven thousand wood bison in the wild, and there’s a team of Russian and Korean scientist working on a potential de-extinction of steppe bison and wood bison using cloning techniques.
When the cold of the winter is over, the wood bison is ready for a makeover! They will lose their winter coat when Alaska temperatures start to warm up in the early weeks of spring. When it is mid-summer, the wood bison will have a completely new coat that is better suited to the warmer weather. In fact, this bison has two coats in one, with one layer that is closer to their skin is used to trap hot air and keep it warm, while the thicker outer coat can shed water, and it works as a wind protector.
Some people describe the wood bison coat as strong but soft. It is very close to human hair, so it’s not like the moose, caribou, and sheep coats’ hollow-like feeling. When they’re shedding their outer coat, they look incredibly shaggy since they lose it very slow and it takes them a few weeks for their summer coat to show off and the old one to get rid of. It’s interesting that you can see both layers of fur. The outer layer is mostly on their face and hump, while the inner layer covers the rest of the body.
The Great Grey Owl is considered the largest owl species by length as well as its signature rounded head, fluffy feathers, and brilliant yellow eyes with dark circles around them make it one fantastic bird to see in the wild. They don’t have any ear tufts because they don’t need them; it has so much plumage covering its whole body that they can survive the winter very warmly. Below its beak, they have a white-collar that sometimes resembles a bow tie of plumage that makes it one sassy owl ready for any party. However, even their beautiful color won’t distract you by how massive this owl is.
If you take all the feathers out of this owl, they are not that impressive and relatively small, but if you measure it as it is, that’s another story. The length is around 24 to 33 inches long for a female and 26 inches for a male. However, they have a wingspan of 5 feet long for an adult male and 4 feet 8 inches for an adult female. Thus, like the rest of the owl species, the female is bigger than the male. They only weigh from 1.28 to 4.19 pounds, which is no surprise since their bodies are a bag of feathers.
We know that since you watched that movie about the kid wizard, you wanted a majestic snowy owl. The snowy owl, also known as the polar or arctic owl, are natives of the Arctic regions, and they are mostly on the tundra. It’s one of the largest owls, and it’s also the only owl with completely white plumage. Although the female tends to have some dark brown flecks, the males are as white as snow which is perfect for hunting. Speaking of hunting, like other species of owls, they tend to sleep all day and hunt during the night.
They will hunt small mammals and water birds, but their favorites to track are lemmings when they are in the breeding season. Their nest is set on a slight rise on the tundra’s ground because of their ability to camouflage in the snow. The development of the younglings takes a long time. If you want to see one of these in the wild, they like to wander almost anywhere close to the Arctic, but they are a bit unpredictable, and since they are on the vulnerable list of endangered species, it can be hard to find one. Nevertheless, if you do, count yourself lucky, especially if it has an acceptance letter with your name on its beak.
The beautiful Canada Lynx is a specialist predator found in the northern areas of Alaska and Canada, hence its name. Its long, dense fur, snowshoe-like paws, and triangular-shaped ears with black tufts make this cat a favorite to see in Alaska. They are excellent swimmers and very agile climbers, which makes them a fantastic hunter. Their favorite food is almost exclusively snowshoe hares, but when it’s harder to find them because their numbers are low, they like to hunt for ducks, ptarmigan, grouse, moles, and red squirrels, basically small mammals and easy to catch birds.
The Canada Lynx tends to hunt better at twilight or night when the hares tend to be more active and easier to catch. Their favorite way to track is to wait on specific trails or in ambush beds and then pounce on it and kill it quickly with a bite on its head or neck. They are loners and tend to hunt alone, and interesting enough, they tend to avoid each other if they are of the same sex. They only tend to meet other lynx during the mating season, which is a month-long in the spring.
Contrary to their name, the Bearded Seal doesn’t have a beard. Their name comes from two Greek words, “eri” and “gnathos,” which refers to their strong jaw. It does have very long whiskers that curl up when they are dry, giving it a very posh look that can compete with the walrus’ mustache. They are also the largest northern phocid family and are the only genus Erignathus members, making them very unique for the seal species. These beautiful creatures can weigh almost 1,000 pounds, so there’s no wonder they are a favorite of some predators.
Because of their high-fat content, bearded seals are a significant food source for polar bears. They are also a favorite for local natives like the Inuit, which not only are a substantial part of their diet but also use the blubber for burning it in their stone lamps called “kudlik.” Since their skins are very tough, they are also perfect for making shoes, whips, dog sled harnesses, and even to make summer tents. Overall, these precious seals are an essential part of the Alaskan wildlife and the people who live there.
This small fox is a native of the Arctic tundra biome, which has the most brutal cold temperatures of the area, and this cute white fox is very well adapted to this cold environment. The impressive thing about these foxes is their thick fur that keeps them warm during the winter, and it protects them from predators by camouflaging in the snow, making them invisible. On the coldest nights, to keep themselves warm, they curled up tightly, hiding their legs behind their very fluffy long tail. When they curled up like that, it gives them a smaller surface area to volume ratio and keeps them insulated.
Arctic foxes do not need to hibernate like other animals because of their fur’s thickness, but they preserve fat by being less active in the coldest winter. They start to build up the fat around the fall to the point of increasing their body weight up to 50%, giving them enough energy to survive the winter when food is harder to find. Their diet consists of hunting small animals like lemmings, ringed seal pups, voles, fish, seabirds, and waterfowls. They also love carrion, berries, some insects, and seaweed to have a more balanced diet.
I’m sure you have heard the stories of these beautiful creatures holding hands while they sleep so that they don’t float away from each other. These cute creatures are the heaviest members of the weasel family, but they are also one of the smallest marine mammals you’ll find. Sea otters also have the thickest and most dense coat of fur you will find in the Animal Kingdom, and it keeps them insulated from the cold temperatures of Alaska. Even if they can walk on land, their favorite way of transportation and their favorite habitat is the ocean, where they spend most of their lives.
Their favorite food to catch is sea urchins, crustaceans, mollusks, and fish. There are not too many mammals species that use tools to their advantage, these handy sea otters like using rocks to open shells and dislodge prey, making it easier to get their food. Because of their love of sea urchins, they are considered a keystone species to control the sea urchin population. Without them, this can inflict extensive damage to the kelp forest ecosystems. They are a threatened species, so they are banned from hunting to save this fascinating species from extinction, and so far, the sea otter conservation efforts are working with their numbers growing in the wild.
They’ve been the villains in a few fairy tale stories, but the Grey Wolf is not the big baddie that some people think they are. This wolf is the largest extant member of Canidae, with males weighing approximately 88 pounds and females around 82 pounds. The grey wolf is considered the most specialized for cooperative game hunting because of its capacity to take prey bigger than them in packs, be social, and have expressive behavior. They also are incredibly territorial and will fight anything that invades their habitat. However, the interesting thing is that they don’t need to be in packs to be a strong force in Alaska.
They can easily take down their big prey alone or with a partner, and their success rate is even higher than when they are in packs. That might be a reason why some cubs separate from their family when they grow up, and sometimes they end up establishing their own smaller packs. Even with their hunting skills and having a bad rap in society, Wolf attacks on humans are extremely rare, and when there are attacks, it’s because of rabies. They feared humans because of their experiences with hunters, ranchers, and shepherds. So who’s the bad wolf now?
Unicorns might not exist in real life, but the beautiful Narwhal does, and it’s a beauty to behold. They live in cold Arctic waters, and they are one of two living species of whale in the family Monodontidae with the beluga whale. People are mesmerized by their horns, making them look like a fantasy creature from a medieval book. However, that large tusk is just a protruding canine tooth that projects from the upper jaw’s left side and forms that helix spiral. What’s even more interesting is that its horn keeps growing throughout its life.
Their tusk can reach to be about 4.9 to 10 feet long! It’s completely hollow, but it’s still cumbersome, and it can weigh up to 22 pounds. What’s even more fascinating and rarer is that one in every 500 male narwhals has two tusks when the fight canine also grows through the lip. It is also sporadic to see a female with a tusk too, and only about 15% has it, and it’s smaller than the male one and with a less noticeable spiral. Since they don’t reside in just one place, it’s a bit rare to see them, but you might get lucky if you are in the far south of the Alaska Peninsula and the Commander Islands.
Speaking of interesting sea creatures, we want to talk about the Northern right whale dolphin. These include just one of a handful of dolphin species that do not have a fin on top and have a smooth curving back instead. Their skin is mostly black with some white markings. They have a shorter beak than the most common dolphins and have a straight mouth line. They are not much information on how they reproduce since they are harder to spot, but it is estimated that they reach sexual maturity for males to be around ten years and females around nine years.
Northern right whale dolphins tend to be in larger groups of between 100 to 200 individuals, but they have seen groups of 300. They are mostly in the Pacific Ocean, so the best place to catch them in action is around the Monterey Bay all year long, around the Monterey Submarine Canyon. If you want to get a glimpse of them, the best time of the year to see them is around the summer and fall, and you can catch a whale-watching excursion boat where you might get lucky enough to see them riding alongside the boat.
And finally, let’s talk about this common bird who is not an Apex predator, but like all the animals on this list, it is an integral part of Alaska’s Wildlife. The Willow Ptarmigan, a small bird that is the state bird of Alaska, can be found in many places like Siberia, Scandinavia, and Canada. Their plumage color depends on the season. In the summer, they are mostly brown, but their feathers turn entirely white when winter comes. Although, sometimes, they get some black feathers in their tails. They haven’t changed much since the Pleistocene era in the tundra, where it was also very common to come by.
The most exciting thing about the ptarmigan is their feet. They are covered in tiny white feathers, no matter the season. Nevertheless, they have a purpose, and they are not only for decoration. They serve as a type of snowshoe that helps them walk around the tundra without making much noise. Basically, they keep them protected from the environment. Sometimes they like to hide in burrows in the winter, where, thanks to their white feathers, they are great for camouflage from predators and humans. They are always in flocks, so that you might find them in big groups wandering in the tundra. However, don’t get too close because they are afraid of humans, and they can fly away fast. Do you want to see more majestic animals? Check out animals from Madagascar!