Did you recently see a mystery WHITE bird in Alaska?
If so, I’m guessing you are trying to figure out how to identify the species correctly!
Well, you’re in the right place. Below, you will learn about the different WHITE birds found in Alaska. I’ve included high-quality pictures and range maps to help you!
But before you begin, let me give you one warning:
Trying to figure out which WHITE bird you saw can be difficult. The reason is that you may have seen a bird affected by either of these two conditions:
- Albinism: This happens when cells can’t produce ANY melanin, which is the pigment that provides color to feathers.
- Leucism: This condition only involves a PARTIAL loss of pigmentation. Instead of being completely white, the bird may be duller in color or have irregular patches of white plumage.
The list below focuses ONLY on NATURALLY white birds found in Alaska.
#1. Snowy Owl
- Bubo scandiacus
Snowy Owls are arguably the most stunning white bird you will see in Alaska!
Their white plumage stops almost everyone in their tracks, both birders and non-birders alike! Although they are mostly white, they have horizontal dark lines over most of their bodies. Interestingly, similar to humans, individuals seem to get whiter with age. 🙂
Snowy Owl Range Map
Snowy Owls migrate with the changing seasons. During summer, they mate and breed in northern North America on the tundra. But when winter arrives, these birds come south.
You never know how far south Snowy Owls will travel.
Most years, Snowy Owls only appear as far down as the northern USA. But some years, there is an “irruption” of Snowy Owls, and many more birds than normal migrate south.
- RELATED: 10 Owl Species That Live in Alaska!
#2. Rock Pigeon
- Columba livia
Rock Pigeons are extremely common, but they are almost exclusively found in urban areas. These birds are what everyone refers to as a “pigeon.” You have probably seen them gathering in huge flocks in city parks, hoping to get tossed some birdseed or leftover food.
The typical pigeon has a gray back, a blue-grey head, and two black wing bars. But their plumage is highly variable, and completely white birds are common.
Rock Pigeon Range Map
Pigeons are easily attracted to bird feeders, especially if leftover food is lying on the ground. Unfortunately, these birds can become a nuisance if they visit your backyard in high numbers. Many people find their presence overwhelming and look for ways to keep them away!
Love them or hate them, Rock Pigeons have been associated with humans for a long time! Some Egyptian hieroglyphics suggest that people started domesticating them over 5,000 years ago. But, interestingly, scientists aren’t even sure where their original range occurs!
#3. Snow Bunting
- Plectrophenax nivalis
- Round bodied with a short thick conical bill.
- Breeding males are almost all white, with black on the back.
- Females and non-breeding males are white but have brown-streaked backs and brownish heads.
These charming white birds are a delight to see in Alaska!
But since Snow Buntings choose frigid locations high in the Arctic to breed, your best chance to find them is in winter in open fields along the roadside.
Snow Bunting Range Map
Even in summer, Snow Buntings have to work hard to keep their hatchlings warm enough to survive. They build their nests in the deep cracks of rocks and use a thick fur lining to protect the eggs. They never really leave the nest, ensuring it stays warm, and the male comes and feeds the mother every fifteen minutes.
#4. Tundra Swan
- Cygnus columbianus
- Large, white bird with a long white neck.
- Entirely black bill.
- Look for a yellow patch on their black facial skin, located just below the eye, to correctly identify.
- Smaller than Trumpeter Swans.
Tundra Swans form long-term, loyal relationships. Typically by the time they are 2 or 3, they have found a partner. Once that happens, these two birds will breed, feed, roost, and travel together year-round.
The most common sound these white birds make is a “hoo-ho-hoo” bugle, emphasizing the second syllable. (Listen below)
Another typical sound associated with Tundra Swans is the whistling of their wings. In fact, Lewis and Clark initially called them “whistling swans” when they first encountered them, and many people still use this name today.
#5. Trumpeter Swan
- Cygnus buccinator
- A giant, white bird with a long neck.
- Black bill and black facial skin at the base of the bill. It lacks the yellow that appears on the Tundra Swan.
- Black legs.
Trumpeter Swans are the largest white bird native to Alaska!
They have a wingspan of almost 6 feet (1.8 m) and weigh around 25 pounds (11.3 kg), which is about twice the weight of a Tundra Swan. In fact, they are so big that about 100 yards of open water is needed for them to get enough speed to take off!
Trumpeter Swans were once endangered due to overhunting, but luckily their population has recovered, and they are increasing their numbers. Unlike Tundra Swans, this species stays in Alaska in summer to nest and breed. Look for them near ponds, lakes, rivers, and marshes, and the farther from people, the better!
These large birds typically nest on an existing structure surrounded by water, such as beaver dams, muskrat dens, small islands, floating masses of vegetation, and artificial platforms. Trumpeter Swans are very sensitive when breeding and commonly abandon their nest sites and babies due to human disturbance.
#6. Snow Goose
- Anser caerulescens
- Most Snow Geese are all white with black tail feathers. But some individuals display a “blue morph,” whose heads are still white but bodies are sooty gray.
- Pink legs.
- Pink bill, which has a black patch on each side.
During the breeding season, Snow Geese spend their time in the continent’s northernmost areas, away from human civilization. As a result, most people only get the pleasure of seeing this abundant white bird in Alaska when they migrate south in fall and winter.
Snow Goose Range Map
Look for them in large fields and bodies of water. If they are around, it’s usually not hard to find them, as they are almost always seen in huge flocks accompanied by a lot of honking!
And lastly, here is a fun fact that my kids loved to learn. Snow Geese are prolific at pooping, and they defecate between 6 – 15 times per hour. 🙂
- Falco rusticolus
The Gyrfalcon, sometimes known as the Gyr, is the largest falcon species in the world! These raptors are birds of the Arctic, and they breed on the sides of cliffs in remote areas of Alaska and Canada. Luckily, they live in secluded areas and are safe from human disturbances, but they do face challenges from climate change.
Gyrfalcons are polymorphic species, which means that their feathers and plumage vary a bit. These falcons range in color from almost entirely white to very dark. Some of the morphs make the Gyrfalcon look similar to a Peregrine Falcon. Also, males and females show no color differences. The only difference between the sexes is that females are larger and bulkier than males.
During the winter months, Gyrs have to come south from the high Arctic to find food. Depending on the specific year, you never know how far south they may come!
Gyrfalcons will eat almost ANYTHING they can catch. The long list includes hares, ground squirrels, young Arctic Foxes, lemmings, songbirds, shorebirds, seabirds, waterfowl, and even other raptors, such as owls, hawks, and the Peregrine Falcon! With that being said, their primary source of food is ptarmigans.
#8. White-tailed Ptarmigan
- Lagopus leucura
- Breeding males are brown and gray with a white belly.
- Breeding females have a yellowish wash with brown and black barring.
- In winter, males and females both turn completely white!
To find White-tailed Ptarmigans, you MUST head high into the mountains. They are one of the ONLY birds that spend their entire lives at such high elevations, as most birds head down the mountain when the weather gets cold.
White-tailed Ptarmigan Range Map
To survive such cold temperatures, White-tailed Ptarmigans have evolved some helpful adaptations. For example, check out their feathered feet, which enable them to keep warm and walk on snow. In addition, they almost never fly in winter, choosing to walk everywhere to conserve energy.
Interestingly, White-tailed Ptarmigans change colors with the seasons. In summer, they are brownish. But in Alaska during winter, they are COMPLETELY white!
#9. Willow Ptarmigan
- Lagopus lagopus
- Breeding males have a chestnut and brown neck and back, a white belly, and a red eyebrow.
- Breeding females are a mixture of brown, black, and white.
- In winter, both sexes turn completely white!
Willow Ptarmigan are masters of camouflage! This is especially true during winter when these birds are completely white and match the snow perfectly.
Interestingly, Willow Ptarmigans often create underground burrows in the snow to avoid the bitter cold. You could be looking for them in the mountains and not realize they are nestled safely underneath you. 🙂 In addition, they also have feathered feet to keep them warm.
Willow Ptarmigan Range Map
Lastly, I am happy to tell you that male Willow Ptarmigans are great fathers. They are the only grouse species that help raise their young, choosing to stay with their mate from the beginning of the breeding season until the chicks are independent.
#10. Rock Ptarmigan
- Lagopus muta
- Breeding individuals are mottled brown with a red eyebrow.
- In winter, males and females turn white, but keep the red eyebrow.
You can’t deny that Rock Ptarmigans are tough! These birds nest as far north as land is available. To stay warm in winter, they have evolved feathered feet and the ability to dig burrows underneath the snow.
Rock Ptarmigan Range Map
Interestingly, males stay all-white after the snow has melted, waiting until after they are done attracting females. Their white plumage makes them easy to spot on the tundra and vulnerable to predators. To help avoid detection, they intentionally get themselves dirty to help blend in better.
Rock Ptarmigans and Willow Ptarmigans are fairly similar and share much of the same range, albeit slightly different habitats. Because of these similarities, there have been many reports of breeding between the two species, creating ptarmigan hybrids.
Which of the white birds have you seen before in Alaska?
Leave a COMMENT below! 🙂