Alaska's amazingly resourceful raptors
August 1, 2022 | View PDF
Alaska has a diverse range of habitats and ecosystems that support over 534 different species of birds. Most of these birds are migratory and travel great distances to spend the brief summers here to nest and raise young. But some birds live in Alaska year-round, despite our long winters and extremes in weather, including a few of our most visible and spectacular birds - raptors.
There are 22 raptors that regularly make Alaska their home, all of them incredible in their abilities to survive. They can be resident or migratory and some even opt for both, depending on their age and stage in life. The golden eagle, bald eagle, and snowy owl are three of our best-known raptors. Let's take a look at how they survive in Alaska.
Larger birds can use energy resources more efficiently to keep warm, so many Alaskan raptors are bigger than their southern counterparts. For example, our bald eagles are about 25% larger than bald eagles in the lower 48. Females can have a wingspan up to 8 feet and weigh up to 16 pounds.
Most of our bald eagles are residents and maintain a territory year-round. Their larger size and characteristic as opportunistic hunters - eating a variety of animals like salmon, gulls, waterfowl, snowshoe hare, and carrion - helps them easily find food and successfully live year-round in Alaska.
Golden eagles spend their first five years or more learning how to be an eagle. Those that hatched in Alaska may wander the entire state, from the arctic coast to the Interior, and south to the Aleutians, taking advantage of the plethora of resources our state has before establishing their own territory and finding a mate.
Perhaps, one of our most amazing Alaskan raptors is the snowy owl. These owls of the arctic can survive in temperatures lower than -81o Fahrenheit. Thick, dense feathers help to insulate them when they are perched on ice floes or sitting out in a blizzard. In the middle of winter, snowy owls have been observed perching on the edges of ice far out in the Arctic Ocean as they hunt for sea ducks in the pockets of open water. They are known to follow hunters in arctic Alaska, swooping down and taking the catch before the humans can get to it. Snowy owls, like the bald and golden eagles, will also hunt a wide variety of animals including voles, shorebirds, geese and even carrion.
These three raptors are just a few of the amazing bird species that live in Alaska's varied habitats, extreme weather and long, cold winters.
Bird Treatment and Learning Center cares for injured, ill and orphaned birds from across the state, including raptors like eagles, hawks and owls. By mid-July 2022, we had taken in 31 eagles and eaglets. Our Ambassador Birds include two bald eagles and one golden eagle. Ambassador Birds are our partners in education, inspiring others to care for Alaska's wild birds. Learn more at http://www.birdtlc.org
Lisa Pajot is an ornithologist and volunteer at the Bird Treatment and Learning Center in Anchorage.