Bird's Eye View
Spring Bird Migration in Juneau, Alaska
If the mere thought of spotting a bald eagle or red-eyed vireo sets your heart aflutter, a trip to Juneau during the annual spring bird migration is in order.
About the Birds
Millions of birds travel to-and-through Juneau to breed in its unique and accessible forests, mountains, wetlands and intertidal habitats. Rocks and trees are rife with nests, while trills and chirps echo through the air. More than 300 species of birds follow the flyways of the state's panhandle, while more than 280 species nest right here in Juneau. Large and small, you’ll see them all — from majestic bald eagles and tundra swans to tiny, iridescent rufous hummingbirds. Learn more about Juneau’s diverse bird population and what you can expect to see during this much-anticipated annual event.
When to Visit
To experience the spring migration at its peak, plan your trip in April and May. If observing nesting birds is your thing, plan your visit in June. Populations tend to wane by summer (July through August), but don't let that stop you from birding — bird watching can be enjoyed during most of the year.
Become a Birder
Take part in all the high-flying, feathered fun. Wings Over Alaska is a free program administered by the Alaska Department of Fish and Game. It recognizes birders who have successfully spotted certain species of birds in Alaska (471 species have been identified to date). Use the site to download checklists, brochures, applications and more. Once enrolled in this free program, birders are encouraged to share their sightings on www.ebird.org. Check out the site to see what’s been spotted so far!
Where to Watch
The Mendenhall Wetlands State Game Refuge provides some of the best and most accessible birding habitats in all of Juneau. Both resident and migrant birds come to feed and rest along the 4,000-acre Mendenhall Wetlands. The fresh and saltwater streams flowing into the Gastineau Channel provide a bounty of riches for the 140 species of birds that flock its lands. Hike along the nine-mile stretch of shoreline, grab a boat to get a better glimpse (and maybe catch a few salmon and trout while you’re at it, if you’re an angler). The refuge is open to the public; permits may be required for certain activities — it’s best to consult the Alaska Department of Fish and Game before embarking on your birding adventure.
Another hotspot for viewing Alaska’s great spring bird migration is at Point Bridget State Park, specifically along the salmon-rich streams of Cowee Creek. Birds won’t be the only animals flanking its shores — bears are common guests to the area, especially during salmon spawning season (June through October). Juneau’s only state park features breathtaking views and diverse landscapes, from forests and meadows to lively marine habitats. Point Bridget is located just 41 miles north of Juneau near the end of the road system. Entrance fees begin at $5; camping and cabins are available for overnight guests.
While you’re visiting Mendenhall Glacier, keep an eye out for the area’s burgeoning bird population. Its forelands, made up of small lakes, dense shrubs and trees, are home to the American redstart, northern waterthrush, vaux's swift, gray-cheeked thrush and warbling vireo. Bald eagles adore icebergs and can often be spotted perching atop the icy pillars. If you don’t plan to travel far from the visitor’s center, be sure to bring binoculars and a long-focus lens for your camera. Otherwise, take an excursion along the one-mile loop known as Moraine Ecology trail. Trails and other outdoor areas are open year-round from 6 a.m. to midnight, while the visitor center’s hours vary.