By Carol McIntyre Tracking the Birds of Denali Park Carol McIntyre is a wildlife biologist with Denali National Park and Preserve, where she has studied Golden Eagles and other birds since 1987. While you’re still asleep in your hotel or tent, she’s out doing bird surveys at sunrise – which, in June, is at 3 am. “The way I look at these surveys,” says Carol, “Is we’re listening to park visitors who come from many different continents, talking to us at one time. They’re telling other species, Hey, this is my territory, don’t come near me. And they’re also telling the girls in the area, Hey, I’m looking for a mate.” Here’s Carol’s story in her own words: The sun rises early in Denali in May and June, and our surveys start a half hour before sunrise. We do our surveys early in the day when birds are most active and most likely to be detected. We sample from valley bottoms up to about 4000 ft, in all habitats. We spend several minutes at each sampling point looking and listening for birds, and we sample from 10 to 50 points per day depending on the habitat and topography along our survey route. We go to the same sampling points several times each season to make sure that we sample adequately for all species. For instance, in early May we detect only a handful of resident and migratory species. But at the same point in mid-June, we detect more than two dozen species.
Dark-eyed Junco (Order Passeriformes)Kevin Hamel, Totem Inn Many people that visit Denali want to see the big mammals . . . wolves, bears, caribou. Me?
I still enjoy seeing an American Robin in Denali more than seeing the large mammals. Why? Because I know that the American Robin I am looking at traveled thousands of kilometers across Alaska, Canada, and the lower 48 US and then back to its nesting area in Denali, and along the way it had to overcome all the obstacles to its survival. This amazing bird (American Robin) along with the dozens of other migratory species that nest in Denali show not only how important Denali is for birds, but also how connected Denali is to the rest of the world. Maybe that is why it breaks my heart every time a Denali visitor sees something and then says “Oh, it’s just a bird.”
Looking for birds in Denali National Park Carol McIntyre, NPS Photo
The birds we are studying belong to the Order Passeriformes, also called “perching birds”, the single largest order of birds, comprising over 50% of all avian species in North America. Passerine birds represent a large proportion of all the bird species that occur in Denali and many respond very quickly to changes in their environments.
It is easy to see or hear many of the Passerine birds that call Denali home in the nesting season. Some of the easiest to see and hear are Ruby-crowned Kinglet, American Robin, Varied Thrush, Wilson’s Warbler, Savannah Sparrow, White-crowned Sparrow, and Dark-eyed Junco. Many Denali employees and visitors often tell me that those “Darn Robins are singing all night and are keeping me awake” and I simply reply that they are only here for a brief time and that we should enjoy their lovely songs!