Spring is in the air in Kotzebue, and so are the birds

Ruby-crowned kinglet (Photo by Donna Dewhurst/USFWS)

After taking 2020 off, the Bird Sighting Contest and other bird watching festivities are back. This will be the 23rd year of the collaborative effort between the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the National Park Service.

Brittany Sweeney, outreach specialist at Selawik National Wildlife Refuge, says that the community-based effort has resulted in a long-term database that can help scientists pick up changes in bird migration patterns and timing.

“That term ‘citizen science’ is thrown around, but it means, in general, when members of the community or members of the public are engaged as observers and reporters to help us track something that’s happening in the natural world,” Sweeney said.

Activities surrounding the arrival of migratory birds started in April and will run through the end of May. Coinciding with the Bird Sighting Competition, the agencies will be setting up drop-in birding spots with spotting scopes, binoculars and bird guides. Staff will be on hand to answer questions and keep equipment sanitized to maintain health and safety.

For the younger crowd, there will be a combination of bird watching, crafts and other fun activities.

“Birds are something that we can all enjoy and celebrate,” Sweeney said.

Deanna Depue, a National Park Service interpretive ranger, says the contest coincides with World Migratory Bird Day on Saturday, May 8.

“About 12 birds have been called in so far this year, ” Depue said. “All of us can start to be thinking about the birds and make a celebration for the birds, start to get excited, and be thinking about our activities for the future.”

Locals spotted a ruby-crowned kinglet and a dark-eyed junco last week in Kotzebue as a storm rolled in.

Dark-eyed junco (Photo by Dave Menke/USFWS)

“The day that the ruby-crowned kinglet was sighted was one of the snowy days last week when it was hunkering down next to a tree trunk in somebody’s backyard, just trying to find a sheltered spot,” Sweeney said.

The return of the birds each spring is a sign of many things, one being the arrival of fresh meat after winter food stores have been depleted. In the past, Sweeney says the contest has also served as a useful language exchange when people call in with Inupiaq names for birds.

“So [one woman] came back and said, ‘I’m pretty sure they’re talking about a turraaturaq,’ which is a type of shorebird,” Sweeney said. “So it was an interesting exchange of trying to piece together the clues — the scientific name, or what we would biologically know it as, of the bird that this person saw that they were reporting with their name.”

The theme this year is “Sing, Fly, Soar – Like a Bird!,” which Sweeney thinks is an apt sentiment after a long year of being cooped up.

People can find updates on the Selawik National Wildlife Refuge Facebook page.

Turraaturaq or bar-tailed godwit (Photo by Steve Maslowski/USFWS)
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