Spring usually comes slowly to the Yukon Kuskokwim Delta There’s an expectancy, there’s an anticipation that you have and it just takes a few more days of warmth, a few more days of sunlight, for that life to come bursting forth. The land is going to start filling up with birds. [The Yukon Delta National Wildlife Refuge] If I were to use two words to describe the Yukon Delta I’d say vast and productive. The large bulb of land reaching out into the eastern Bering Sea— it’s a huge area— the size of the state of Maine. It supports some of the highest densities of breeding water birds in the world, not just in the Arctic but anywhere on the globe. We literally are funneling birds into almost all the flyways of the world. There are no roads here on the Delta. There are no easy ways to get around. Everywhere you look is wild, natural habitat and it’s more than half water. There are rivers, there are ponds. There are incredibly complex networks of wetlands, streams, and sloughs and together they combine to form this really unique world where the ocean and the land and the freshwater all come together and because of that diversity of major systems we have a very diverse and productive landscape to support the birds. One of the most amazing things about the Yukon Kuskokwim Delta is that during the breeding season it hosts birds from virtually all over the world. It’s a nexus, it’s a focus of international avian migrations. Some birds arrive in great flocks; others come as individuals. And they get here via very different flyways. We have some birds that come up what’s called the East Asian Australasian flyway. So birds from New Zealand, from Australia, from Thailand, from China, Japan, Korea come up their historic fly ways and arc over into western North America here on the Yukon Kuskokwim Delta. We even have a species a bird that makes its way from the plains of Africa— the northern Wheatear—and breeds here on the Delta. So they come from virtually all the continents of the world to raise their young and contribute to the next generation. Birds come to the Delta to raise their young for a couple reasons: the first one of course is that there’s so much food. It allows them to produce the eggs that they’re young develop from and it means that their young will have a rich source of food to help them as they grow. One of the other advantages is that there is so much habitat available to them; they can set up their territories at the density that is natural for them. Be as far away from their own kind as they want or as close as they want depending what the species is. Here the birds are really doing what they’ve done historically, interacting with the environment and one another in the ways they always have; in the way they’ve evolved to. They’ve got the entire ecosystem in which to make their living. The most productive area of the refuge is on the Central Coast. And in a band that’s about 15 to 25 miles wide you have an incredible diversity in abundance of wild fowl. On a continental scale the number of birds is really impressive. For example, in this coastal strip, the density of breeding shorebirds is higher than anywhere else recorded in the world. The most abundant shorebird in the Pacific Flyway is the Western Sandpiper and most of those birds nest here. In the fall over eighty percent sometimes 100 percent of the entire flyways population of Bar-tailed Godwits stage here on the Delta, prepare for migration here on the Delta before flying nonstop to New Zealand. Eighty percent of the world’s Black Turnstones nest here on the Delta. Most within just a couple kilometers from the Bering Sea shoreline, but for many other species as well, it is equally important. All of the world’s breeding Bristle-thighed Curlews and their offspring stage here on the coast in meadows every fall before they migrate south. About a million individual Geese come here to nest every year. So the numbers are just off the charts. Tens of thousands of Pacific loons, tens of thousands of Tundra swans, tens of thousands of Sandhill Cranes. In terms of ducks, we may have between 1-2 million coming here to nest every year, and so in terms of overall numbers and it’s important for specific populations birds that have a global reach this place is really unprecedented. If we don’t protect an area like this it’s like turning the faucet off, turning down the pipeline, and suddenly at the other end of the flyway people don’t have the opportunity to see and appreciate and find wonder in the organisms that make up this planet. [Special thanks to: Brian McCaffery, The Yukon Delta National Wildlife Refuge, The US Fish and Wildlife Service, The National Conservation Training Center]End of transcript
Birds in the Ecology of Alaska’s Yukon Delta
Every year birds from around the world migrate to the Yukon Delta to nest and raise their young. The number of birds and diversity of species that annually visit the refuge is without equal elsewhere on the globe. It is one of the world’s most important sites for migratory birds.