Birdwatching is one of the fastest-growing hobbies in the United States. It saw a boom during the pandemic lockdown when people had little else to occupy their time than looking out the window or going outside for a walk. Now that we are back to normal (whatever that means these days), people have continued the hobby and more and more people are getting into birdwatching.
When I first began visiting Alaska, I was not at all interested in birds. Sure, the puffins were cute but all those seagulls? They looked alike to me. Yeah, it was cool to see a bald eagle; but black-legged kittiwakes and double-crested cormorants? Please. I was much more interested in seeing bears, wolves, and moose.
Back home, I found myself looking for wildlife that of course wasn’t there and began noticing the birds. I really think my birding hobby filled in the gap between visits to Alaska. Instead of searching for moose at every roadside pond, I was looking for birds. Now, when I am back in Alaska I have a lot more respect for those seagulls.
Alaska has always been a hot spot for birdwatchers. There are over 500 species of birds that have been seen in the state. Hardcore birders make pilgrimages to the Aleutian Islands in attempts to find species that are rare in the US. During the spring migration, millions of birds return north from their winter homes. Alaskan communities have embraced the love of birds as evidenced by the many annual bird festivals that take place every year.
Alaska Hummingbird Festival began on April 7th and continued through April 29th. This festival honors the return of the rufous hummingbird back to Alaska. Weekly bird walks and lectures are open to the public. A featured art show will remain open through the end of June.
Stikine River Birding Festival ran from April 28-30 with bonus events the weekends before and after. A golf tournament, scavenger hunt, birding walks, and build-your-own birdhouse are just a few of the events on the schedule.
Kachemak Bay Shorebird Festival takes place every spring. This year’s festival is May 4-7 and is the festival’s 31st year. The festival celebrates the spring migration with educational lectures, tours, and workshops.
Copper River Delta Shorebird Festival also takes place May 4-7 this year. Located on the shores of Prince William Sound, Cordova can only be visited by plane or boat. This festival also uses the spring migration to bring awareness to Alaska’s birds. Drawing and journaling workshops, an art show, lectures, and of course tours and birding identification workshops are just a few of the events.
Yakutat Tern Festival takes place in the Southeast native community June 1-4. The festival will have art and photography workshops, bird banding, Hubbard Glacier tours, and a scavenger hunt.
Tanana Valley Sandhill Crane Festival is August 18-20. Sponsored by Friends of Creamer’s Field, the event celebrates the migration of sandhill cranes and offers guided nature walks, photography, and falconry. You can even practice your crane calling.
Bald Eagle Festival is scheduled for November 11-14. Here you can witness the largest concentration of bald eagles in the United States. The eagles are attracted to the area due to the abundance of food from the summer’s salmon runs. As many as 3,000 eagles gather here in the fall to feast on the salmon. The festival offers wildlife workshops, live raptor presentations, and bus transportation to the eagle preserve.