Birdwatching In The Arctic
Last year, we wrote a blog post detailing the fantastic birdwatching opportunities that are on offer in Antarctica. This week, we are taking a polar opposite approach and looking at the birdlife that can be seen in the Arctic region. Destinations such as Greenland, Iceland and Norway are perfect for anyone who wants see wildlife of the feathery kind during their expedition cruise. So, keep your eye on the sky and you may see some of the following.
The little auk is one of the most common birds in the Arctic, particularly if you are visiting islands such a Spitsbergen and Franz Josef Land. Strangely, after a mix up by zoologist Carl Linnaeus, the little auk’s Latin name is taken from the sound that a drake duck makes. These two species have similar plumage and are thought to have been confused in the naming process. In Greenland, a seal skin is stuffed with little auks to make a local delicacy.
One of the cutest Arctic birds, puffins can be spotted in large numbers on the coastal cliffs of Greenland and Iceland. There are four species in total (including the rhinoceros auklet, which is actually a puffin), but the other three are usually found further south. The Atlantic puffin spends most of its time living at sea, returning to the same rocky outpost each spring to mate. At this time of year, their familiar beaks are much more brightly coloured than they are during winter.
The Arctic tern is known for having the longest migratory route of any bird. After mating during the summer months in the Arctic, they head off on a mammoth journey to Antarctica to enjoy the southern hemisphere’s summer as well. They survive the round-trip of nearly 60,000 miles by constantly catching fish from the surface of the sea as they fly. You’re most likely to see them on the northern coasts of Norway, throughout Iceland and the Canadian Arctic, and on the west coast of Greenland.
Somewhat comically named, the ruddy turnstone is so called because of its habit of turning over small stones on the beach as it searches for food. They breed on the shorelines of the Canadian Arctic and Greenland, before migrating in the winter to exotic places that include the Galápagos, India and the Caribbean. Usually black and white in colour, they adopt a reddish-brown plumage during breeding season to attract a mate.
A small, eye-catching bird, snow buntings can be found in the tundra and mountainous regions of Alaska and the Canadian Arctic, as well as on the islands of Jan Mayan and Franz Josef Land. Their mostly white plumage means they are perfectly named, but females tend to have brown colours at the tips of their wings. Males will attempt to attract a female by flying to heights of around 50 feet and gliding back down whilst singing loudly.
One of the rarer and more majestic sights that you may see during your Arctic cruise is the beautiful snowy owl. You are mostly likely to catch a glimpse of one in the Arctic tundra of Alaska or Canada, but they can also be seen in Greenland, Iceland and Spitsbergen as they follow the population of lemmings – their main prey. Unlike other owls, they nest on the ground and choose to hunt during the day. Despite their name, they also like to breed in areas of little snow to aid with hunting.
If you are a keen birdwatcher and want to see some of these amazing species found in the Arctic region, we have many different itineraries that can take you there. Contact our friendly team today for more information.