Birds of the Arctic

By admin / 20 December 2017

Birds of the Arctic

There are a select few hardy Arctic birds who live in the northernmost part of the Earth all year round, as well as approximately 200 species of Arctic birds that migrate here during the summer months.

Living in the Arctic is no mean feat. The winters are long, cold, and extremely harsh. However, there are a select few hardy Arctic birds who choose to live in the northernmost part of the Earth all year round, as well as approximately 200 species of Arctic birds that migrate here during the summer months. Some travel to the Arctic regions to breed and nest, whilst others simply come to moult or fly through on migratory routes.  

No matter what time of year you travel to the Arctic on an Expedition Cruise, it is paradise for bird lovers, ornithologists, and wildlife photographers. The summer months are, however, the best time to see birds. During this short season, there is an incredible burst of life in the Arctic. Temperatures rise, the sun shines all day and night, food is abundant, and the region is teeming with millions of regionally endemic and migrating birds. 

Resident Arctic Birds

Regionally endemic Arctic birds—i.e. those who live in this region all year round—include the Raven (although very conspicuous), Puffin, Red-Legged Kittiwake, Rock and Willow Ptarmigan (most abundant species during winter), Brunnich’s Guillemot, Ross’s Gull, Sabine’s Gull, Harlequin Duck, Gyrfalcon, Auks, Skua, Fulmar, and Snowy Owl. Although, some full-time Arctic bird residents have been known to head south when food is scarce.  

Snowy Owl, native to Arctic regions (Image source: Bigstock) 

Atlantic Puffins—also referred to as “sea parrots”, and sometimes “clowns of the sea”—are invariably one of the most popular Arctic seabirds, most likely due to their striking black-and-white plumage and colourful beaks and feet. They are also very comical birds, often seen dive-bombing, exhibiting various ritual behaviours, and standing with numerous fish hanging from their beaks! The Atlantic Puffin is one species of bird we are usually lucky enough to see on many of our Arctic Expedition Cruises. An absolute joy to watch and photograph! 

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Atlantic Puffin, aka “sea parrot” and “clown of the sea” (Image source: Bigstock)  

Migratory Arctic Birds 

When the summer arrives in the Arctic, so do the migrant birds who are unable to survive the harsh winters here. These include the Peregrine Falcon, Bald Eagle, Steller's Eider, Sandpiper, Ruddy Turnstone, Dunlin, Yellow Wagtail, Northern Wheatear, Red Phalarope, Savannah Sparrow, and Arctic Tern. Wetland birds like ducks, geese, swans, and waders favour the southern Arctic during their summer migration because it has more marshes than the high Arctic.

These temporary Arctic residents travel north during the summer to breed, nest, and take advantage of daylight and rich food resources, including insects, insect larvae, and nutrient-rich underwater greens. Oftentimes, migratory breeding birds will arrive early to ensure their eggs hatch when food supplies are at their peak. Until then, they rely on fat reserves to see them through their nesting period.

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Arctic Tern, longest migration ever recorded (Image source: Flickr) 

Arctic Terns make the longest migration of all the Arctic bird species. In fact, they have the longest migration ever recorded—an incredible 59,650 miles, which is more than double the circumference of the Earth. Each summer, they travel from Antarctica to the Arctic to breed, then they migrate back to Antarctica to overwinter. An annual pole-to-pole journey, which is very impressive! Often called “sea swallows”, due to their shape and long tail streamers, Arctic Terns are stunning little birds, with white and light-grey plumage, a black ‘cap’ on the head, and bright red beaks and feet. They are one of our favourite Arctic birds to see and photograph during the summer months.

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