National Bird Day - What should we celebrate?

January 5, 2023
Heading Out

A large group of Snow Geese take off from the coastal flats of Goose Bay on Upper Cook Inlet, Alaska.

My maternal grandmother was a bit of a stickler for grammar. So when I see the title National Bird Day, my grammar-sense kicks in. Are we celebrating our National Bird, the Bald Eagle, or are we as a nation celebrating birds in general?

The correct answer, of course, is the latter - we celebrate our love for birds as a nation. Of course, the level of love is across a whole spectrum, from casually enjoying seeing a black-capped chickadee on your deck bird feeder to pursuing a Big Year, as humorously-portrayed in the movie of that name.

Roller Profile

A Lilac-breasted Roller shows its profile on a tree stump in Chobe National Park, Botswana.

The only birds I really noticed growing up were Robins and Red-winged blackbirds. It was not until I became a nature photographer that I began to explore birds as a subject. And what is not to love about birds as a photo subject? Generally speaking, a nature photographer will want to learn about the subjects he or she photographers in order to get better at photographing that subject. Birds really are the epitome of this. You have to learn about habitat, breeding habits, preferred foods, identify different plumages by season or age, and learn their many sounds. There is so much to learn, it makes perfect sense to me that people would dedicate their time so much to learning them.

I am too much of a generalist to delve into what is necessary to become a birding expert. But, I do try to learn what I can about the common birds in my area so I can get better at photographing them.

Here in Alaska, we are blessed with an abundance of bird species that are both resident and migratory. In fact, we have birds - like the Arctic Tern - that migrate here from as far away as Antarctica. Many other species migrate from various locations in the Pacific Rim to Alaska. Approximately 5 billion birds migrate here each year. If you are ever in Anchorage, check out the AK Flyway Exhibit at the Campbell Creek Science Center. Learn more about the Pacific Flyway (and other flyways) on the Audubon website.

Catch of the Day

An Arctic Tern glides by with a fish in its mouth at the Potter Marsh Bird Sanctuary in Anchorage, Alaska.

There is no coincidence that Alaska is a prime migratory destination for birds of the world. Of the 656 million square miles of land in Alaska, approximately 94% of which is public land, most of which is undeveloped. Some 60% of all national park lands and 75% of all national wildlife refuge lands in the United States are in Alaska.

Preserving habitat is key to the success of our bird species. But due to the impacts of habitat degradation and climate change, nearly half of all bird species in the United States are in decline. About 70 species of birds have lost half or more of their population in the last 50 years. Learn more about the state of our birds with the U.S. North American Bird Conservation Initiative's State of the Birds 2022 report.


An American Bald Eagle sits atop a dead tree along the Turnagain Arm, keeping an eye out for an evening meal.

So if you love birds, January 5's National Bird Day is a great way to focus on your joy of however you embrace birds - casual observer to photographer to dedicated birder. But also remember that birds need their habitat. So, also remember to celebrate the public lands and other open spaces that provide that needed habitat. Check with your local Audubon or other organizations that work to preserve prime habitat. In the Anchorage area, a good organization for that is the Great Land Trust. See what are their targeted priority areas for habitat preservation, and then contact your local, state and federal representatives as necessary to encourage them to take steps to preserve those areas.

Sandhill Squadron
A group of Sandhill Cranes (Grus canadensis) fly in from the fields in late afternoon at Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge, New Mexico.
A mating pair of Pacific Loons swim together in a lake in Anchorage, Alaska.
Peering Meve

A Meve's Starling looks to the distance while resting on a tree in the evening light, Chobe National Park, Botswana.

A Great grey owl takes flight at Potter Marsh Bird Sanctuary, Anchorage. Great grey owls frequently visit Anchorage in the winter...

A Great grey owl takes flight at Potter Marsh Bird Sanctuary, Anchorage. Great grey owls frequently visit Anchorage in the winter time, showing up at various locations. Their stunning appearance and size make them a real treat to observe.