New hot line focuses on bird sightings

Southeast wild

Posted: Friday, April 07, 2000

Spring bird migration is about to begin. If you have a feeder, you may look out the window some morning and see a bird you cannot identify. Perhaps one of the ducks on Twin Lakes will look strangely different. Or maybe you can't quite figure out what that bird is you see hopping around in the cemetery during your lunch time walk.

What should you do?

For years there has been a small group of ornithologists and birders in Juneau who tried to keep track of any rare and unusual birds that are sighted in Juneau. But many sightings have gone unreported, or have been reported long after the bird has flown away, because there has not been a central point to make reports to.

That is about the change. Under the auspices of the Juneau Audubon Society, a Juneau Rare Bird Alert Hotline has been established.

Although the idea of a Rare Bird Alert Hotline may sound a little unusual, they exist all across North America. Every state, with the exception of Hawaii, has at least one. They also exist in seven Canadian provinces. Many states and provinces have several: Alaska has hot lines in Seward, Kachemak Bay, Upper Cook Inlet and Fairbanks. There are presently 152 hot lines across North America.

The purpose of the hot lines is to provide a central point for local birders, or casual observers, to report their sightings. Often when a rare or unusual bird is reported, there will be an immediate response and avian specialists will attempt to confirm what species has been seen.

Most hot lines compile their unusual sightings on a weekly or monthly basis and send the information to the National Birding Hotline Cooperative. A monthly update of the most interesting bird sightings is published by the American Birding Association in ``Winging It.'' The American Birding Association, in alliance with the National Audubon Society, also publishes ``North American Birds,'' a comprehensive quarterly compilation of the important avian events and trends that are reported during each season across North America.

Bird distribution is constantly changing as birds expand their areas, disappear from former strongholds, or alter their patterns of migration. Discoveries of new trends in bird distribution often begin with local observations.

For instance, a Great Gray Owl was discovered hunting along Back Loop Road in the upper Mendenhall Valley in early February. This was the first verified sighting of a Great Gray Owl in Juneau. Recent reports from Upper Cook Inlet indicate a higher than normal number of Great Gray owl sightings there this winter. Is something going on with Great Gray Owls? Stay tuned.

If you want to report an unusual bird sighting, or need help making an identification, call the Juneau Rare Bird Alert Hotline at 586-2591. If nobody answers, leave a message with as many details (size, shape, color pattern, behavior, etc.) as possible. Any unusual sightings or questions will be followed up by a call from a local birder to discuss what has been reported and, possibly, by a visit to confirm the identity of the bird being seen.

As reports come in they will be compiled on the message phone and also will be reported to the Eaglechat website ( Any really amazing sightings will likely be sent to the Alaska Regional Editor for ``North American Birds'' for possible inclusion in that quarterly journal. Any person who reports a sighting that is published in ``North American Birds'' will be acknowledged by name.

Steve Zimmerman is vice president of Juneau Audubon Society. Thursday's (April 13) monthly meeting will feature former Juneau resident John Schoen, science director for the Alaska State Office of National Audubon Society, speaking on risks to Kenai brown bears. The meeting begins at 7:30 p.m. in the Dzantik'l Heeni Middle School library.

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