River of Birds

During the second field season for the king and common eider population estimate at Point Barrow, Alaska (Niksiuraq), strong, persistent winds from the East prevented birds from migrating until much later than the previous year. But once the wind shifted, it was as if the floodgate had been lifted, and the birds poured past in a great river of wings. One day in early May, an estimated 18,000 birds passed in two hours.

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King and common eiders migrating past Point Barrow, Alaska. Photo T. Haynes

The field season is ongoing. Birds are still migrating to their summer breeding grounds, but the wind has shifted again, the lead between the pack ice and the shore-fast ice has closed, and the majority of the population seems to have passed. The memory of the sight and the sound of so many thousands of birds in the sky remains.

Written by Sally Andersen, WCS Arctic Beringia Program Conservation Coordinator, April 2016.

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