Why Anchorage is a Must-See Destination for a Birder’s Big Year
For birders, a "Big Year" is about identifying as many species of birds as possible on a local, state, continental, or global level within a calendar year.
Anchorage’s vast natural areas — stretching from the Chugach Mountains to the Cook Inlet — are home to a wide variety of resident and migratory birds, making it a premier bird-watching destination for bird enthusiasts and those seeking to do a Big Year.
“If you’re going to do a Big Year, you’re going to come to Alaska, it’s like the New York Marathon of birding,” said Cathy Forrester, an Anchorage Audubon Society board member and volunteer bird-watching tour guide.
The volunteers at Anchorage Audubon Society are active in protecting and conserving Anchorage’s ecosystems for future generations. They educate residents and visitors by offering a variety of programs and hosting bird-watching walks.
With an abundance of wetlands and wooded areas, the 1,961 square miles between Portage Glacier and Eklutna provide an ecological habitat and migratory stopover to many of the 530 bird species in Alaska.
Anchorage is home to two varieties of eagles. Bald eagles are commonly spotted searching for fish along Ship Creek, the Tony Knowles Coastal Trail, at Potter Marsh, and at several local lakes. At higher elevations, rock and white-tailed ptarmigan can be found when hiking near Arctic Valley and the Glen Alps.
Locals enjoy bird-watching year round, and although May through September sees the most birds, Anchorage Audubon Society events such as the Hawk Watch and Christmas Bird Count keep birders entertained even in the winter months.
“If you want to see some cool birds, go to Lake Hood, where you can spot some red-throated loons at certain times of the year,” said Bryan Reynolds, a local bird-watcher.
Whether king eiders, tundra swans, or great grey owls are on your list, knowing where to go and some local birding tips can ensure a successful trip for bird-watchers and Big Year competitors.
To make the most of an outing, come prepared with a good pair of binoculars, a camera with a good lens, camouflage clothing, and a good birding app to point you in the right direction of Steller’s jays, Bohemian waxwings, and yellow-billed loons. See the map below for the best locations in Anchorage for bird-watching.
For more information on birding around Anchorage click here.
Download a bird checklist here.