North to Alaska - Driving for the Birds
There’s no truer sign of spring than the arrival of migrating birds that have flown north for the warmer seasons. It’s that time of year you can’t help but look up and be cheered by the songs being twittered and chirped. Clouds part, sun shines and Mother Nature beckons.
This spring, follow the birds north through western Canada and Alaska. There’s a multitude of amazing birding and wildlife viewing opportunities along the way, not to mention culture, history, outdoor activities and more. Choose your own adventure on the Inside Passage, Rocky Mountain or Gold Rush routes through Alberta, British Columbia, Yukon and Alaska.
We’ve scouted the best locations for spotting swans, hummingbirds, warblers and more, so you can spend less time planning and more time on the open road.
The willow ptarmigan is Alaska’s official bird, but it’s understandable why many assume it’s the bald eagle. Driving the highways, you’ll spot them soaring above or sitting on a lamppost most days. While the giant birds are impressive, there’s even more to see in the sky.
- At the very end of the Rocky Mountain route in Homer, where the sea meets the sky, Kachemak Bay is a beautiful haven for shorebirds. The Kachemak Bay Shorebird Festival is held in early May and it is prime time for a scenic boat tour. Look for black oystercatchers, marbled godwits, ruddy turnstones, horned puffins and more.
- Along the Inside Passage route, Wrangell’s Stikine River attracts more than 300 species, including some of the deepest diving birds, like a common murre and pelagic cormorant. Time your trip to the Stikine River Birding Festival for special birding walks and presentations.
- Ketchikan, another coastal community on the Inside Passage route, holds its annual Hummingbird Festival and Art Show each April. The festival celebrates the return of the rufous hummingbirds to the Tongass National Forest and includes guided bird walks and lectures.
Uncover more cool adventures in Alaska here.
Every spring, migratory birds descend on the Yukon en masse, but one bird stands above the rest. April is marked by the arrival of trumpeter swans and brings the region’s most well-known birding event.
- Don’t miss a chance to visit Marsh Lake, just south of Whitehorse on the Alaska Highway in April. The region’s premier bird festival, the Celebration of Swans, takes place here every spring as thousands of trumpeter swans, ducks and geese return to their natural habitat. Swan Haven Interpretive Centre offers special events throughout the month.
- Teslin, also on the Alaska Highway, is another must stop, especially if you’re looking for waterbirds. Teslin Lake and the nearby Nisutlin River Delta National Wildlife Area offer important habitat for swans, loons, grebes, gulls, Red-tailed and sharp-shinned hawks.
- Watson Lake isn’t known just for its Sign Post Forest! Spend time relaxing at Wye Lake (there’s a scenic trail that loops around the water). Some of the birds spotted in the area include the blue-headed vireo, Cape May warbler, magnolia warbler, swamp sparrow and white-throated sparrow.
Discover even more places to stop in the Yukon here.
The BC Bird Trail crisscrosses all parts of southern British Columbia and there are several to follow whether you’re traveling near Banff National Park on the Gold Rush or Rocky Mountain routes, or along the coast from Vancouver on the Inside Passage route.
- Outside of Banff in the Columbia Valley, make stops in the communities of Golden, Radium Hot Springs and Invermere, home to critical resting and feeding areas for resident and migratory birds on the Pacific Flyway. The wetlands draw ducks, like cinnamon teal, ring-necked, bufflehead, ruddy and redhead; horned grebes and Lewis’s woodpecker.
- Closer to Vancouver and the Fraser River, Langley, Abbotsford, Chilliwack and Harrison Hot Springs offer abundant waters, rich marshlands and bountiful salmon to welcome home more than 200 distinct species every year. In spring, look for kinglets, chickadees, brown creepers, spotted towhees, the red crossbill and the round American dipper.
- Spend your time near Squamish and Whistler, an outdoor lover’s paradise, if you want to combine a few adventures with your birding. This mountainous region is known for species that spend more time at higher altitude: Canada jay, clark’s nutcracker and ruffed and sooty grouse. Wilson’s, yellow, orange-crowned, MacGillivray’s, and other warblers start showing up in March and April.
Find more adventures in British Columbia here.
From mountainous national parks, prairies, the southern badlands and even metropolitan areas, Alberta offers a wide range of habitats for migratory birds — attracting nearly 400 species. If you’re feeling lucky, keep your eyes peeled for the endangered whooping crane.
- Calgary might be the largest city in this province but that doesn’t mean it’s not a prime birding location. Make a stop at the Inglewood Bird Sanctuary and you’ll be spotting mergansers, sandpipers, woodpeckers and more in no time. The sanctuary has recorded more than 225 bird species in the area.
- Outside of Calgary, the Ellis Bird Farm is a renowned bird sanctuary and home to the world’s largest outdoor collection of bluebird nest boxes. Walk the bluebird trail; learn about Alberta’s official bird, the great horned owl; and keep an eye out for barn swallows, tree swallows and purple martins.
- Jasper National Park is full of gorgeous scenery and wildlife viewing opportunities, but also birding trails. Popular ones include easier trails near Athabasca Falls and Maligne Canyon or for a more challenging hike, the Bald Hills Loop. Visitors regularly see owls, warblers, woodpeckers, chickadees and more.
Learn more about traveling in Alberta here.
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