Alaska’s Seabirds


A photographic journey along Alaska’s coast and marine habitats

U.S.Fish&Wildlife Alaska


Black-legged kittiwakes
Black-legged Kittiwakes flush in Glacier Bay, Alaska 📷 USFWS/Kathy Kuletz


Seabirds depend on the world’s oceans for food and spend most of their lives at sea. They draw sustenance from the entire water column — from the bottom of the ocean to its surface, feeding from the lowest zooplankton link in the food chain to fish near the top, and some scavenge as well.

Tufted puffins, kodiak national wildlife refuge
Tufted Puffins bob in the marine waters around Alaska’s Kodiak National Wildlife Refuge 📷 USFWS/Robin Corcoran

Seabirds from all over the world come to Alaska to partake in productive marine feeding grounds situated over large continental shelves and bordered by thousands of miles of varied, undeveloped coastline.

northern fulmar feeding frenzy
Northern Fulmar feeding frenzy in Alaska’s Bering Sea 📷 USFWS/Mark Rauzon
long-tailed jaeger
The swift-flying Long-tailed Jaeger spends much of its time far offshore, seldom within sight of land. Like other seabirds, it comes to shore to raise its young. 📷 USFWS/Laura McDuffie


Seabirds may spend most of their life at sea, but they must return to shore to breed and raise their young. Alaska’s seabird breeding colonies — and National Wildlife Refuges — offer some of the most amazing spectacles and viewing opportunities in the world.

Bogoslof Island, Alaska Maritime National Wildlife Refuge 📷 USFWS/Cyrus Read
A Pribilof Islands special: Red-legged Kittiwakes. Most of the worldwide population (estimated at around 200,000) nests on the Pribilofs. This one was spotted on St. Paul Island 📷 USFWS/Lisa Hupp

Twelve species of seabirds nest in the Pribilofs (referred to by some as the “Galapagos of the North”) including the rare Red-legged Kittiwake (above). The soaring cliffs of St. George Island alone host one of the largest seabird colonies in the northern hemisphere with a staggering 2+ million birds.

rookery in Prince William Sound
Black-legged Kittiwake rookery in Prince William Sound 📷 Katrina Liebich
Aleutian Tern chick on Kodiak National Wildlife Refuge, Alaska 📷 USFWS/Lisa Hupp
The pint-sized Kittlitz’s Murrelet adult in the marine waters around Kodiak National Wildlife Refuge (left) and chick in Alaska Maritime National Wildlife Refuge 📷 USFWS/Robin Corcoran and Ronan Dugan
mew gull with chicks
Mew Gull adult with camouflaged chicks, Kodiak 📷 USFWS/Robin Corcoran

‘indicators of ocean conditions’

That’s how avian scientists refer to seabirds. The food items that seabirds feed their chicks, their reproductive success, or numbers in attendance at colonies can all be indicators of what is happening in the ocean. Die-off events indicate something has changed at sea. One of the usual suspects: starvation and changes in the marine food web. Read more: “Sea Change in the High North

dead murres litter a prince william sound beach
Dead Common Murres washed onto a beach in Prince William Sound 📷 USFWS/Tamara Zeller

Connecting us

Once they’re ready, the seabirds fledged in Alaska take flight — Glaucous Gulls north to the circumpolar regions atop the world, auklets west to Russia’s coastal seas, kittiwakes south to the North and Central Pacific, and even Antarctica (Arctic Terns). Others, like albatross and shearwaters, breed elsewhere but come to Alaska to feed. They literally link these places together, their fate dependent upon rich patches of prey in the oceans between.

Shearwaters weather a storm along the Alaska Peninsula 📷 USFWS/Tamara Zeller
A Laysan Albatross cruises near Umnak Island’s Mt Vesvidof 📷 USFWS/Liz Labunski
Least Auklets in Alaska Maritime National Wildlife Refuge 📷 USFWS/Carla Stanley
glaucous gull on Arctic ice/edge habitat, unique in the US
Big-bodied Glaucous Gulls breed in Alaska and travel circumpolar routes that straddle Arctic ice-edge habitats. Here, one stands on sea ice and another takes flight over open water in the Chukchi Sea 📷 USFWS/Kathy Kuletz
arctic tern
Arctic Tern over Kodiak National Wildlife Refuge 📷 USFWS/Robin Corcoran

Compiled by Katrina Liebich, Alaska Digital Media Manager for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, with Migratory Birds Management staff.

In Alaska we are shared stewards of world renowned natural resources and our nation’s last true wild places. Our hope is that each generation has the opportunity to live with, live from, discover and enjoy the wildness of this awe-inspiring land and the people who love and depend on it.

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