Denali's avifauna includes migratory birds from all over the world and a hardy group of residents. The abundance of birds in Denali ebbs and flows across the seasons, increasing significantly as migrants return to Denali in the spring and decreasing when they depart on their autumn migration. Summer birding in Denali rewards visitors with the opportunity to view these migratory species in a spectacular northern environment. Birding in winter is slim by the numbers, but high in rewards as observations of pine grosbeaks, mixed flocks of ptarmigan, and perhaps a gyrfalcon or northern goshawk awaits the hardy winter birder. Of the 167 species of birds recorded in Denali, 149 occur regularly and 119 are recorded as breeders (nesting in the park and preserve).
While we revere the beauty of Denali's birds, we must also acknowledge the threats to their existence. At least 80% of the breeding species in Denali are migratory. Each spring these migratory birds, representing six continents, join the hardy year-round residents on this rich subarctic landscape to breed and raise young. The migratory behavior of so many of Denali's birds presents a complex conservation challenge to park managers. The winter ranges of Denali's birds reach from southern Alaska to the tip of South America, extend across Asia and into Africa, and include much of the Pacific Ocean region. With so many birds spread over such a vast area it is impossible to fully identify the complexity of forces that shape the long-term survival of Denali's birds. While most of these species are fully protected under the Migratory Bird Treaty Act of 1918, habitats along migration routes and on wintering areas of many of the species that breed in Denali are changing rapidly. Native habitats are being converted to more human dominated landscapes through urbanization, agriculture, industry, forestry, and other human activities. Other obstacles to survival include communication towers, energy transmission lines, and increases in mortality caused by domestic animals (i.e., cats). On a local level, growing human activities may alter habitats and habits of different species as more and more humans visit Denali. One only needs to look around their own neighborhood to note the changes that are occurring around the world.
Much of our research on birds in Denali focuses on gaining a better understanding of their natural history and population densities across the park and preserve. Scientists are currently assessing ways to determine the abundance and distribution of birds throughout Denali and how to monitor trends in populations.