Outdoor Alaska: Winter birding with Mr. Whitekeys

Published: Feb. 20, 2020 at 6:25 PM AKST
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February isn't what most people consider prime time for bird watching in Alaska, but for Anchorage entertainer and bird enthusiast Mr. Whitekeys, some planning and patience payoff with an array of wildlife viewing opportunities.

At a residential bird feeding site in Anchorage, around a half dozen bird feeders aim to attract different types of birds.

"There's a hanging feeder that is filled with cracked sunflower seeds that will attract chickadees and nuthatches, sometimes a squirrel, sometimes woodpeckers. Then there's a suet for woodpeckers and nuthatches. There's peanut butter, which everybody likes peanut butter," Mr. Whitekeys said.

Mr. Whitekeys, who is also the president of the Anchorage Audubon Society, says he's been seriously into birds for about 20 years. In that time there have been noticeable changes.

Mr. Whitekeys says there are about 30 to 35 species that can regularly be seen during the winter in Anchorage, but that number is increasing.

"Because as Anchorage has grown, people have started both with feeders and planting ornamental trees that have berries. And that's attracted more birds that will stay for the winter that didn't used to because there's food now. Robins, for instance, 20 or 25 years ago there were hardly robins, if any at all in Anchorage in the winter. But now, there are flocks of robins around because there's plenty of food," Mr. Whitekeys said. "This year in the Christmas bird count, we found like 52 species of birds in Anchorage, which was an all time record."

Mr. Whitekeys says that for a lot of those species, there was only one individual among a larger number of birds that typically overwinter.

"In about a month, the action ramps up as migratory birds that have been outside somewhere down south for the winter start coming back," Mr. Whitekeys said.

Getting started in bird watching doesn't require costly investment and the Anchorage Audubon Society has guides to the birds of Anchorage.

"Any kind of wildlife is on its own schedule," Mr. Whitekeys said. "And there's an old saying - sometimes the bird wins."

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