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31st Annual Christmas Bird Count Results

An American Pipit among kelp.
Suzi Golodoff
An American Pipit among kelp.

On December 17, 2023, our Unalaska community held its 31st annual Christmas Bird Count, participating in the international Audubon count that’s been conducted since the year 1900.

Our Unalaska Island count circle is centered at the local airport, and we had seven field parties composed of 17 adults and two kids, fanned out in all directions. We also had a couple of dedicated feeder watchers.

Count day weather was snowy, 32 degrees Fahrenheit, with light winds from the southwest. Lakes were partly frozen and the rivers open. Sandwiched between gales, as we always are out here, we’d postponed the count a day to let lousy conditions roll by.

Counters covered a combined 24 miles on foot and by car, spending a combined 24 hours out in the field. Deep snow was a challenge for outer areas, but counters got out to Summer Bay and along the inner curve of Unalaska Bay, which was teeming with sea ducks. Other teams searched the coastlines of Amaknak Island and Dutch Harbor spit, along town creek and Unalaska Lake, and what’s left of the valley wetlands. Counters froze their toes poking through the spruce groves and trudging over local hills. We had folks tallying in every nook of the local harbors and out as far as Westward Seafoods. This was the first year in the past 30 that we did not send counters to the head of Captains Bay.

Here are the results of what we saw on Count Day, December 17, 2023. Any species followed by CW, are ‘count week’ birds; species that were not seen on count day but were noted during the three days prior to or following count day. We tallied 4,689 individual birds of 43 different species, with an additional three species seen during count week.

Emperor Goose 524; Gadwall 7; Mallard 8; Green-winged Teal 39 (almost all of them the Eurasian subspecies); Tufted Duck 2; Greater Scaup 40; Steller’s Eider 10; Harlequin Duck 957; White-winged Scoter 23; Black Scoter 1,202; Long-tailed Duck 200; Bufflehead 88; Common Goldeneye 99; Barrow’s Goldeneye 3; Red-breasted Merganser 171; Common Loon 2; Horned Grebe 35; Red-necked Grebe 37; Double-crested Cormorant 3; Red-faced Cormorant 4; Pelagic Cormorant 215; cormorant species 35; Bald Eagle 369; Sharp-shinned Hawk 2; Merlin 2; Black Oystercatcher 38; Rock Sandpiper 57; Wilson’s Snipe 1; Mew Gull 9; Glaucous-winged Gull 71; gull ssp 136; Common Murre 3; Pigeon Guillemot 86; Marbled Murrelet 8; Belted Kingfisher 4; Common Raven 4; Pacific Wren 12; American Dipper CW; American Robin 1; American Pipit CW; Bohemian Waxwing 2; Orange-crowned Warbler 1; Townsend’s Warbler 1; Fox Sparrow 1; Song Sparrow 19; Snow Bunting CW; Gray-crowned Rosy-Finch 142; Common Redpoll 51.

A few notes:

  • Our waterfowl and sea duck flocks look robust overall. Emperor Goose numbers are low, but as winter progresses we’ll see how we do. If anyone sees leg-banded birds, please report them to or call (907) 267-2527.  
  • Noteworthy are high Black Scoter numbers, far outnumbering White-winged Scoters, whose numbers are quite low. Harlequins have been holding steady over the years. Very few Steller’s Eiders so far, but they tend to keep coming in as winter deepens. There are three Tufted Ducks in with the scaup flocks, two showing themselves on count day. They are an Asian aythya, (the same genus as scaups and Canvasbacks) and are outside their normal range, but we see them nearly every winter. Common Goldeneyes are abundant this year, and our sharp-eyed counters sighted three Barrow’s among them. We also noted exceptional numbers of both Horned and Red-necked Grebes.  
  • Alcid numbers are not so encouraging. The Common Murre count is alarmingly low: three murres total. Although alcid counts tend to be reflective of weather conditions, we’ve gone from a high count of 4,067 Common Murres in 2002, to a steep decline of zero or single digit counts over the past seven years.   
  • We’d all hoped our Common Ravens would make a comeback after the devastating count of three last year. We searched seriously for them but still only counted four in the whole area. Our average over the past 10 Christmas Bird Counts is 216, with a high count of 830 in 2002. We don’t know why our Common Ravens have almost disappeared, but a highly pathogenic avian flu could be the cause. To report sick or dying birds please contact ADF&G at or call USF&W Avian Flu Hotline at: 1 866 527-3358.
  • On the bright side…a surprise American Robin! Unalaska has only a couple of past records, so this was quite a thrill. As of today there are two of them, eating mountain ash berries around the library and radio station. Two Bohemian Waxwings are gracing spruce trees on Nirvana hill. They are also unusual or ‘casual’ winter visitors to the Aleutians. 
  • In the spruce groves on Amaknak Island, an Orange-crowned Warbler and a Townsend’s Warbler rewarded dedicated counters who stood in deep snow, begging for an appearance. Warblers are insect eaters, so it's astonishing they stay so late after fall migration. OCWA and/or TOWA have been documented on our Christmas counts for seven of the past 10 years, and on occasion overwinter here.
  • Perhaps the most surprising bird was an American Pipit, found looking for insects in the dense kelp piles washed ashore outside the Dutch Harbor spit. American Pipits breed here but leave in the fall, and this may be the first winter record for the Eastern Aleutians.  

Hats off to all our hardy Unalaska Christmas Bird Counters and special kudos to our new recruits this year! As always, keep me posted on what you’re seeing out there.

Suzi Golodoff is a local naturalist. She organizes the bird count each year in Unalaska.

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