Vital Research at the Alaska Bird Observatory

Alaska contains vast areas of unspoiled bird habitat, consisting of rich estuarine and marine ecosystems, interior boreal forests, coastal rainforests, alpine and lowland tundra, as well as coastal and interior wetlands. These diverse environments are home to more than 220 species of birds, many of which migrate to Alaska from the islands of the South Pacific, Asia, Australia, Central and South America, Canada and the United States, and many other birds which breed exclusively in northern regions. By means of research and education the Alaska Bird Observatory in Fairbanks, Alaska, endeavors to promote the understanding, appreciation and conservation of Alaska’s birds and their habitats.

Founded in 1991, the Alaska Bird Observatory is a non-profit organization which focuses on long-term studies of resident and migrant birds of interior Alaska, placing emphasis on conservation. As a non-profit organization, the Alaska Bird Observatory values its team of dedicated volunteers who are trained in a myriad of tasks. Some of these tasks entail bird-banding, which is an invaluable tool for monitoring bird populations and learning more about the ecology and migration of Alaska’s birds. Volunteers are trained to identify birds, open and close mist nets, safely remove birds from the mist nets, transport them to the banding lab and release them again. Volunteers are also taught to record data, monitor nesting boxes, mend nets and keep net lanes free from encroaching vegetation. Some of these tasks can be physically demanding and time-consuming, but volunteers agree that holding a tiny migratory bird in your hand and thinking about the arduous journey it is about to undertake can be a humbling experience – and they love it!

Among the many educational programs offered by the Alaska Bird Observatory is the mentoring program which is designed for 10 to 17 year-olds who have a strong interest in birds. Participants work closely with a professional biologist and participate in hands-on studies of wild birds with the objective of developing valuable field research skills as well as learning how to design and conduct scientific studies. Students have won awards and college scholarships based on the knowledge gained through the mentoring program.

The Arctic Moon Bird Club for children in the Fairbanks area meets once a month to enhance their birding skills. Activities include field trips, researching a specific bird species, making bird feeders from recycled materials and participating in a community projects such as the Christmas Bird Count. The Alaska Bird Observatory also organizes outdoor science camps that the entire family can participate in. In line with their aim of promoting education, the Alaska Bird Observatory makes teaching tools available to educators to encourage an interest in birds and impress on future generations how vital conservation is.