Bird Conservation Areas

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Five Bird Conservation Regions (BCRs) were designated in Alaska as part of the North American Bird Conservation Initiative in order provide a framework that would facilitate coordinated conservation  and evaluations of major bird initiatives.

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Map of Alaska with bird conservation regions

This map details the ecologically distinct regions in North America with similar bird communites, habitats, and resource management issues.
(This image came from NABCI web site)

North American Bird Conservation Initiative

Aleutian/Bering Sea Islands - Includes portions of Western and Southwestern Alaska (BCR 1)

Included in this region are the Aleutian Islands, that extend westward from the Alaskan mainland for 1,100 miles (1,800 km), and the Bering Sea islands (that include the Pribilofs, St. Matthew, Hall, St. Lawrence, and Little Diomede). The Aleutian chain is volcanic in origin. The climate is maritime and wind is ever present. Sea ice does not extend to the Aleutians and permafrost is generally absent; however, sea ice is an important feature of the Bering Sea. Vegetation at higher elevations consists of dwarf shrub communities, mainly willow and crowberry. Meadows and marshes of herbs, sedges, and grasses are plentiful and some islands have ericaceous bogs. Seabirds are a dominant component of this region’s avifauna and several species breed only in this region (e.g., Red-legged Kittiwake, Least Auklet, Whiskered Anklet). Southern Hemisphere procellariiforms occur regularly in the offshore waters of the southern Bering Sea and northern Gulf of Alaska during Alaskan summers. Although breeding diversity of passerines (mainly Lapland Longspur, Snow Bunting, and Gray-crowned Rosy-Finch), and shorebirds (e.g., Black Oystercatcher, Dunlin, Ruddy Turnstone, Rock Sandpiper) is low, numerous Old World species are regular migrants and visitants. Some of these species regularly breed in the region (e.g., Common Ringed Plover, Wood Sandpiper, Eurasian Skylark). Rock Sandpipers have differentiated into three races among islands within the region and the only endemic Alaskan passerine (McKay’s Bunting) is found here.

Western Alaska - Includes portions of Western and Southwestern Alaska (BCR 2)

This region consists of the coastal plain and mountains of western and southwestern mainland Alaska. Sub-regions include: A) Subarctic Coastal Plain and Seward Peninsula, B) Ahklun and Kilbuck Mountains and Bristol Bay-Nushagak Lowlands, and C) Alaska Peninsula Mountains. Permafrost is continuous except in southern parts of the region. Sea cliffs are present as are mountains that exceed 3,300 feet (1,000 m) in elevation. Volcanic peaks up to 8,500 feet (2,600 m) are found along the Alaska Peninsula. Wet and mesic graminoid herbaceous communities dominate the lowlands and numerous ponds, lakes, and rivers dot the landscape. Tall shrub communities are found along rivers and streams and low shrub communities occupy uplands; forests of spruce and hardwoods penetrate the region on the eastern edge. High densities of breeding waterfowl and shorebirds are found on the coastal plain of the Yukon and Kuskokwim rivers. Intertidal areas here and lagoons of the north side of the Alaska Peninsula supports millions of shorebirds during migration (e.g., Dunlins, Western Sandpipers, Red Knots, Bar-tailed Godwits). The coast of the Alaska Peninsula supports high concentrations of wintering sea ducks that include the: Steller’s Eider, Harlequin, Oldsquaw, Surf Scoter, and Black Scoter. Western Alaska includes an unique Beringian breeding avifaunal element (e.g., Black Turnstone, Bristle-thighed Curlew) and several Old World species are regular breeders or migrants in this region (e.g., Sharp-tailed Sandpiper, Red-throated Pipit, White Wagtail). Passerine diversity is greatest in tall, riparian shrub habitats (e.g., Arctic Warbler, Gray-cheeked Thrush, Blackpoll Warbler) and raptors (e.g., Gyrfalcon, Rough-legged Hawk) nest along the riverine cliffs. Mainland sea cliffs contain nesting colonies of, largely, Black-legged Kittiwakes, Common Murres, and Pelagic Cormorants.

Arctic Coastal Plain/Foothills - Northern Alaska (BCR 3)

This region includes low-lying, coastal tundra and drier uplands of the Arctic Foothills of the Brooks Range. Sub-regions include : A) Arctic Coastal Plain, and B) Arctic Foothills and north slope of the Brooks Range. It extends from the Alaska-Canada border at Demarcation Point westward, and southward, to the mouth of the Noatak River. Because of thick, continuous permafrost, surface water dominates the landscape (20-50% of the land surface on the coastal plain). Freezing and thawing form a patterned mosaic of polygonal ridges and ponds. Several rivers (e.g., Colville River) bisect the plain and flow into the Arctic Ocean. Barrow/Utqiaġvik, lying near the Arctic Ocean, experiences 67 days of darkness in the winter and 84 days of continuous sunlight in the summer. The ocean surface, except for leads, is frozen 9 to 10 months a year, and the ice pack is never far from shore. Because of the wetness, waterfowl and shorebirds dominate the breeding avian community and passerines are scarce. The most abundant breeding birds on the coastal plain include the: Northern Pintail, King Eider, Oldsquaw, American Golden-Plover, Semipalmated Sandpiper, Pectoral Sandpiper, Red-necked Phalarope, and Lapland Longspur. Few bird species winter in the region. Several Old World species penetrate the region from the west (e.g., Arctic Warbler, Bluethroat), and species regularly breeding in the Canadian arctic penetrate from the east (e.g., White-rumped Sandpiper, Black Guillemot). Taiga passerines (e.g., Gray-cheeked Thrush, Yellow Warbler) reach the region along drainage systems from the Brooks Range and raptors nest commonly along major rivers (e.g., Gyrfalcon, Rough-legged Hawk).

Northwestern Interior Forest - Formerly Central Alaska with Cook Inlet included from Southcoastal Alaska (BCR 4)

This region is an extensive (278,800 square-miles; 722,000 km 2 ) patchwork of ecological types. Sub-regions include: A) Interior Highlands and Ogilvie Mountains, B) Interior Forested Lowlands and Uplands, Interior Bottomlands, and Yukon Flats, C) Alaska Range, Wrangell Mountains, and Copper Plateau, and D) Cook Inlet. In the interior, winters are cold (average minimums -1 0 F to -31 0 F; -18 0 C to -35 0 C) and summers are warm (average maximum 63 0 F to 72 0 F; 17 0 C to 22 0 C). The Cook Inlet region has both maritime and continental influences and the state’s most populous region, two-thirds of Alaska’s population reside here, enjoys a mild year-round climate. A mosaic of vegetation communities arise from the interplay of elevation, permafrost, surface water, fire, and aspect. All forest types (needleleaf, deciduous, and mixed) are found in the region and are dominated by white spruce, black spruce, poplars, and paper birch. Tall shrub communities occur along rivers, drainages, and near treeline. Bogs, consisting of low shrubs and shrub-graminoid communities, are common in the lowlands. Alpine dwarf scrub communities are common in Interior Highlands and throughout mountainous regions; highest elevations are generally devoid of vegetation. Despite the varied ecoregions, many bird species are shared among the regions. Lowlands, bottomlands and flats harbor many species of migrating and breeding waterfowl (e.g., Northern Pintail, Northern Shoveler, Green-winged Teal) and swans. These ecoregions, combined with forested lowlands and uplands support breeding shorebirds such as Greater and Lesser Yellowlegs, Solitary and Spotted Sandpipers, and Common Snipe. American Golden-Plovers and Surfbirds are found in alpine habitats in Interior Highland and mountainous ecoregions. The unvegetated intertidal area of Cook Inlet has recently been identified, not only as a major spring stopover site for Western Sandpipers and Dunlins, but also as the primary wintering site for the nominate form of Rock Sandpiper (C. p. ptilocnemis). Significant numbers of Long- and Short-billed Dowitchers and Hudsonian Godwits stop in upper Cook Inlet during migration as do Wrangel Island Snow Geese during the spring. A suite of passerines inhabit forest, scrub, and graminoid communities in the region. Black-capped and Boreal Chickadees, Ruby-crowned Kinglets, Swainson’s Thrushes, Yellow-rumped Warblers and Dark-eyed Juncos are common forest species. Tall shrub communities host White-crowned, American Tree, and Fox Sparrows, Wilson’s and Yellow Warblers, Gray-cheeked Thrushes, and Common Redpolls, among others. At high elevations, Horned Lark and Lapland Longspur are common breeders.

Northwest Pacific Rainforest - Formerly Southcentral and Southeastern Alaska (BCR 5)

The coastal rainforest stretches from extreme southern Alaska to the western Gulf of Alaska and is characterized by heavy precipitation and mild temperatures typical of a maritime climate. Sub-regions include: A) Coastal Hemlock-Spruce Forests, and B) Pacific Coastal Mountains. The regions stark, rugged features are a result of intense glaciation during the Pleistocene and nearly all adjacent land area remains glaciated. Much of the terrain is steep sloped from sea level up to 3,300 feet (1,000 m), but large floodplains, alluvial fans, outwash plains, and river deltas also occur here. The region is dominated by needleleaf forests of Western Hemlock and Sitka Spruce; other needleleaf species also occur in coastal forests. Broadleaf forests are found along large mainland river drainages. Several other communities are present in this region and include: tall, low, and dwarf scrub; tall and low scrub bogs and swamps; and wet graminoid and forb herbaceous communities. The Copper and Stikine River deltas and the Yakutat forelands are major stopover sites for migrating shorebirds, especially Western Sandpipers and Dunlins. Black Oystercatchers, Rock Sandpipers, Black Turnstones, and Surfbirds are common wintering species. Nearshore marine areas support many breeding and wintering sea ducks (e.g. Surf Scoter, Harelquin Duck) and seabirds (e.g., Black-legged Kittiwakes, murres, murrelets). Coastal forests support a host of resident and breeding passerines (e.g., Chestnut-backed Chickadee, Winter Wren, Brown Creeper, Ruby and Golden-crowned Kinglets, Red-breasted Sapsucker), raptors (Bald Eagle, Northern Goshawk, Northern Saw-whet Owl), and seabirds (Marbled Murrelet).


Logo for Boreal Partners in Flight

Logo by Bryce Robinson,