— Alaska is a hotspot for migratory birds which come to the state seeking breeding grounds with plentiful food and few predators. Life isn’t easy for these far-flyers. Scientists with the University of California Davis’ Birds and Seasonality Project work to understand how migratory songbird species have adapted their physiology to thrive despite the challenges of unpredictable Arctic weather.
Migratory Birds in Alaska
The Arctic is blanketed in snow for 9 to 10 months of the year. Then in May or June when the Sun shines long overhead, snow melt comes sudden. The Arctic can go from “White to dark in a space of a week.”
Alaska hosts birds from all over the world. Over 200 bird species have been recorded in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge alone. Many birds migrate to Alaska every warm season to breed. Migrating birds must live with the changing climate in their northerly habitat.
Unusual 2013 Alaskan spring storms negatively impacted migratory birds. Late storms created snow-bound conditions; birds were stockpiled along the Alaska Canadian border, unable to move north because of heavy snow and a dearth of liquid water.
Even once birds make their way through the snowy passes, they face extreme challenges. They must court, breed and form pair bonds, build a nest, lay and incubate eggs, hunt, feed their hatchlings, then gain enough fuel to make the long distance return flight south.
Scientists featured here investigate how songbirds have adapted their physiology to thrive despite the challenges of unpredictable Arctic weather.