USGS - science for a changing world

Northern Prairie Wildlife Research Center

  Home About NPWRC Our Science Staff Employment Contacts Common Questions About the Site

Bird Checklists of the United States

Izembek National Wildlife Refuge

Cold Bay, Alaska


The Izembek National Wildlife Refuge lies between the Bering Sea and the Pacific Ocean at the extreme tip of the Alaska Peninsula, near the small town of Cold Bay. The Izembek Unit, at nearly 321,000 acres, is the smallest National Wildlife Refuge in Alaska. The adjacent 1 million-acre Unimak Island Unit, and the 1.5 million-acre Pavlof Unit, which extends northeast to Port Moller, are also administered as part of the Izembek Refuge, and are included in this listing.

Volcanoes, glaciers, and tidal deposits formed the area. The Alaska Peninsula and Aleutian Chain are part of the Pacific Rim of Fire and both active and extinct volcanoes are visible on clear days. Glaciers, still present in the mountainous areas, formed the uplands and valleys, which are widely interspersed with streams, lakes, ponds, and marshes. Tundra dominates the area with subarctic vegetation, upland heaths, and sedge and grass meadows. Willows and alders ring the mountain bases and line stream channels.

The maritime climate is characterized by frequent storms with persistent clouds, high winds, and low temperatures. Precipitation averages 35 inches annually, falling on over 200 days during the year. Temperatures generally vary between 0 and 60 degrees Fahrenheit. Spring is typically the driest season and fall the wettest.

Though its size is small, the Izembek Refuge is critically important to migratory waterfowl, especially the black brant. The refuge was established in 1960 to protect the Izembek Lagoon and its entire watershed. The lagoon, which is also a State Game Refuge and a designated Wetland of International Importance, contains one of the largest eelgrass beds in the world. Thousands of waterfowl, including nearly the entire population of black brant, converge on the lagoon every fall from their nesting areas in Canada, Alaska, and the Soviet Union. The brant feed on eelgrass for up to eight weeks before their mass exodus, generally on a night in early November, to the Pacific Coast states and Baja California. Most of the birds fly non-stop to Baja in as little as 55 hours. Northbound in the spring, adult brant begin arriving in Izembek Lagoon in mid-April and depart north during early May. Immature birds continue to arrive until June, making a leisurely departure.

Large numbers of emperor geese also pass through the Izembek Refuge. Emperors breed in Siberia and Alaska and winter in the Aleutian Islands. They begin arriving from the north in late August, and peak numbers occur in November and December. Also called beach geese, they feed on eelgrass in the lagoons and invertebrates and mussels on the beaches at low tide. Though most of the population pass through Izembek on their way to the Aleutians in the fall, many will stay on the Refuge until spring, unless a severe winter causes the lagoons and bays to freeze over. Tens of thousands of Taverners Canada geese also descend on Izembek Lagoon in the fall. Rarely, cackling Canada geese and Aleutian Canada geese are observed in the fall staging flocks of Taverner's Canada geese. Canada geese feed on eelgrass and the berries of the heath.

Spectacular concentrations of ducks and shorebirds compliment Izembek's fall goose numbers. Northern pintails, mallards, oldsquaw, harlequin ducks, and rock sandpipers are among the most common species. Steller's eiders are the most abundant wintering duck species. Tundra swans and a few ducks nest on the Refuge, but all geese go farther north to nest.

Amidst the awesome numbers of birds, brown bears frequent the creeks and beaches, and barren ground caribou wander the uplands. The Refuge is home to wolves, wolverines, porcupines, river otters, red foxes, weasels, and other mammals. The air in early summer is filled with the calls of rock sandpipers, savannah and golden-crowned sparrows, lapland longspurs, American pipits, and other shorebirds and passerines. Ravens, willow ptarmigan, snow buntings, and rosy finches are the primary land birds present in winter. Although diversity of species in this treeless habitat is limited, abundance of some species is great.

Categories in the following list pertain to abundance in the primary habitat of the species since few are found everywhere on the Refuge. Birds are listed in AOU Checklist order. The symbols used to indicate status are listed below. Accidental birds, those which are beyond their usual range and have been recorded only once or twice, are listed separately.


Sp - Spring
S - Summer
F - Fall
W - Winter

c - common: Species occurs repeatedly and is readily seen. Area hosts relatively large numbers.
u - uncommon: Species occurs regularly, but not readily seen or in relatively small numbers.
r - rare: Species occurs, or probably occurs, regularly, but in very small numbers and not often seen.
o - occasional: Species has been recorded only a few times, but irregular observations are likely to occur over time.

* - breeds on Refuge
+ - resident (nonbreeding)


LOONS Sp S F W ___ Red-throated Loon* u u u u ___ Pacific Loon r r r r ___ Common Loon* u u u u ___ Yellow-billed Loon r - r r
GREBES Sp S F W ___ Red-necked Grebe* u u u u ___ Horned Grebe - - u u
SHEARWATERS, STORM-PETRELS Sp S F W ___ Northern Fulmar - - - o ___ Short-tailed Shearwater - - r r ___ Fork-tailed Storm-Petrel - - r r ___ Leach's Storm-Petrel - r r r
CORMORANTS Sp S F W ___ Double-crested Cormorant+ r r r r ___ Pelagic Cormorant* u u u u ___ Red-faced Cormorant r r r r
SWANS, GEESE, DUCKS Sp S F W ___ Tundra Swan* c c c u ___ Greater White-fronted Goose - - r - ___ Snow Goose (Lesser) - - r - ___ Emperor Goose c - c c ___ Brant (Black-bellied) c - c - ___ Brant (Light-bellied) - - r - ___ Canada Goose (Cackling) - - o - ___ Canada Goose (Taverner's) - - c - ___ Green-winged Teal (North American)* u u c u ___ Green-winged Teal (Common Teal)* u o o u ___ Mallard* c c c u ___ Northern Pintail* c u c u ___ Northern Shoveler+ u u u - ___ Gadwall* u u u o ___ Eurasian Wigeon o - u - ___ American Wigeon u - u o ___ Canvasback - - o - ___ Redhead o - o - ___ Tufted Duck o - o - ___ Greater Scaup* c c c u ___ Common Eider+ u o c c ___ King Eider - - - u ___ Steller's Eider+ c o c c ___ Harlequin Duck* c u c c ___ Oldsquaw u r u c ___ Black Scoter* c c c c ___ Surf Scoter o o o o ___ White-winged Scoter u u u u ___ Common Goldeneye+ u u c u ___ Barrow's Goldeneye o - - o ___ Bufflehead u - u u ___ Common Merganser+ u u u u ___ Red-breasted Merganser* u u u u
HAWKS, EAGLES Sp S F W ___ Bald Eagle* c r c c ___ Steller's Sea-Eagle o o o o ___ Northern Harrier+ r r r - ___ Rough-legged Hawk* r r - - ___ Golden Eagle* r r r r
FALCONS Sp S F W ___ American Kestrel - - o - ___ Merlin - - r o ___ Peregrine Falcon u u u u ___ Gyrfalcon* u u c u
GALLINACEOUS BIRDS Sp S F W ___ Willow Ptarmigan* c c c c ___ Rock Ptarmigan* u u u u
CRANES Sp S F W ___ Sandhill Crane* u u u -
PLOVERS Sp S F W ___ Black-bellied Plover - - r - ___ American Golden Plover u o u - ___ Semipalmated Plover* c c u -
OYSTERCATCHERS Sp S F W ___ Black Oystercatcher o o o o
SANDPIPERS Sp S F W ___ Greater Yellowlegs - - o - ___ Lesser Yellowlegs r r r - ___ Wandering Tattler o o o - ___ Whimbrel r o r - ___ Bar-tailed Godwit r - r - ___ Ruddy Turnstone+ c u c u ___ Black Turnstone o - o - ___ Sanderling - o u u ___ Semipalmated Sandpiper - - r - ___ Western Sandpiper u - u - ___ Least Sandpiper* c c c - ___ Pectoral Sandpiper - - r - ___ Sharp-tailed Sandpiper - - r - ___ Rock Sandpiper* c c c c ___ Dunlin* u r u - ___ Short-billed Dowitcher* r o r - ___ Long-billed Dowitcher* r o r - ___ Common Snipe* u u u - ___ Red-necked Phalarope* c u c - ___ Red Phalarope c - c -
JAEGERS, GULLS, TERNS Sp S F W ___ Pomarine Jaeger - o o - ___ Parasitic Jaeger* r r r - ___ Long-tailed Jaeger o - o - ___ Mew Gull* c c c r ___ Slaty-backed Gull - - o - ___ Glaucous-winged Gull* c c c c ___ Glaucous Gull o - o o ___ Black-legged Kittiwake* u u u - ___ Sabine's Gull - - o - ___ Arctic Tern* u u u - ___ Aleutian Tern* u u u -
MURRES, MURRELETS, AUKLETS, PUFFINS Sp S F W ___ Common Murre* u u u u ___ Pigeon Guillemot* u u u u ___ Marbled Murrelet - - o o ___ Kittlitz's Murrelet* o o o - ___ Ancient Murrelet o - o o ___ Cassin's Auklet - o - - ___ Parakeet Auklet o - o - ___ Least Auklet - - - o ___ Crested Auklet - - o u ___ Tufted Puffin r r r r ___ Horned Puffin* r r r r
OWLS Sp S F W ___ Snowy Owl - - - r ___ Short-eared Owl* r r r r
KINGFISHERS Sp S F W ___ Belted Kingfisher - - o o
SWALLOWS Sp S F W ___ Tree Swallow* u u u - ___ Bank Swallow* u u u -
CORVIDS Sp S F W ___ Black-billed Magpie* u u u u ___ Common Raven* c c c c
TITMICE Sp S F W ___ Black-capped Chickadee - - o o
WRENS Sp S F W ___ Winter Wren r r r r
DIPPERS Sp S F W ___ American Dipper* u u u u
THRUSHES Sp S F W ___ Gray-cheeked Thrush - o o - ___ Hermit Thrush - - r - ___ American Robin o - o -
PIPITS Sp S F W ___ American Pipit* c c c -
SHRIKES Sp S F W ___ Northern Shrike u u u u
WARBLERS Sp S F W ___ Orange-crowned Warbler - - r - ___ Yellow Warbler* c c u - ___ Northern Waterthrush - - o - ___ Wilson's Warbler* u r u -
SPARROWS Sp S F W ___ American Tree Sparrow - - r - ___ Savannah Sparrow* c c c - ___ Fox Sparrow* r r r - ___ Song Sparrow r r r r ___ Golden-crowned Sparrow* u u u - ___ White-crowned Sparrow - r - - ___ Lapland Longspur* c c c - ___ Snow Bunting* c u c c ___ McKay's Bunting - - - r
FINCHES Sp S F W ___ Rosy Finch* c u c c ___ Common Redpoll* u u u - ___ Hoary Redpoll - - u -
ACCIDENTAL SPECIES: ONE-TIME OR VERY RARE APPEARANCES Black-footed Albatross Ross' Gull Laysan Albatross Common Cuckoo Mottled Petrel Alder Flycatcher Bean Goose Horned Lark Barnacle Goose Violet-green Swallow Aleutian Canada Goose Barn Swallow Spectacled Eider Northwestern Crow Smew Red-breasted Nuthatch Hooded Merganser Northern Wheatear Sharp-shinned Hawk Swainson's Thrush Northern Goshawk Varied Thrush Mongolian Plover Yellow Wagtail Spotted Redshank Bohemian Waxwing Hudsonian Godwit Yellow-rumped Warbler Herring Gull Dark-eyed Junco Red-legged Kittiwake Rusty Blackbird Pine Grosbeak

For additional information, contact:
                      Refuge Manager
                      Izembek National Wildlife Refuge
                      P.O. Box 127
                      Cold Bay, Alaska 99571
                      Telephone: 907/532-2445
This resource is based on the following source:
U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.  No date.  Birds of the Izembek National 
     Wildlife Refuge.  U.S. Fish and Wildlife Refuge.  Unpaginated.
This resource should be cited as:
U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.  No date.  Birds of the Izembek National 
     Wildlife Refuge.  U.S. Fish and Wildlife Refuge.  Unpaginated.  
     Jamestown, ND: Northern Prairie Wildlife Research Center Online. 
     http://www.npwrc.usgs.govizembek.htm 
     (Version 22MAY98).

Return to Bird Checklists of Alaska
Return to Bird Checklists of the United States

Accessibility FOIA Privacy Policies and Notices

Take Pride in America logo USA.gov logo U.S. Department of the Interior | U.S. Geological Survey
URL: http://www.npwrc.usgs.gov/resource/birds/chekbird/r7/izembek.htm
Page Contact Information: Webmaster
Page Last Modified: Friday, 01-Feb-2013 19:03:03 EST
Menlo Park, CA [caww54]