St. Lawrence Island is a birder’s paradise located 164 miles west of Nome in the middle of the Bering Sea, about 36 miles east of Russia
About St. Lawrence Island
St. Lawrence Island is largely undeveloped and is home to about 1,400 people who live in the villages of Gampbell and Savoonga on the northern coast. Residents are 95.5 percent Alaska Native or part Alaska Native. The isolation of the island has helped maintain their traditional St. Lawrence Yup’ik culture, their language, and a subsistence lifestyle based on marine mammals. Most residents are bilingual, with Siberian Yup’ik still the first language. The economy is largely based on subsistence harvests from the sea including seal, walrus, fish, and bowhead and gray whales. Walrus-hide boats are still used to hunt.
Things to do
St. Lawrence Island is home to vastly more seabirds than humans. While the island has been inhabited intermittently for the past 2,000 years by Yup’ik people and is now home to approximately 1,400 residents, it hosts 2.7 million seabirds during nesting season. In early June, the number of puffins, auklets, murres, kittiwakes, eiders, loons, and many other seabirds that pass by on their migration route to Arctic breeding grounds or stay in the area to nest is astounding. At times it is estimated that tens of thousands are in the air.
Birding at Gambell is among the finest in Alaska. Birders from around the world arrive to witness spectacular movements of seabirds in the spring and fall and for the chance of spotting rarities such as breeding bluethroats, bristle-thighed curlew, gyrfalcon, and others. Seabirds sighted include least and crested and auklets, horned and tufted puffins, thick-billed murres, spectacled eiders, Arctic and yellow-billed loons, and red-necked phalaropes, to name just a few.
Most visitors arrive as part of guided birding tours based out of Gambell. These multi-day tours typically start in Nome with chartered air service to Gambell, where small tour groups will settle in at the town’s one small inn or a guest house before beginning their birding excursions. Tours explore the northwest corner of the island on foot, ATVs, or bicycles, heading out to migration and nesting areas for full days of birding.