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Are There Penguins in Alaska?

Are There Penguins in Alaska?

One of the most identifiable birds in the world is the penguin. However, very few people get a chance to see these flightless birds in person. We all know these birds live in cold climates but do they live in places like Alaska or Canada, near the northern regions towards the Arctic Circle?

We have traveled the world and Alaska extensively and can share some insight on this question. Let’s look at these bird species and find out where you might catch a glimpse of them in the wild.

Up Close with Katmai National Park Bears - Adventures in Homer & Seward, Alaska | Go North Ep 15

What Is a Penguin?

Penguins are known for their dark and white plumage, flippers, and waddle. These flightless birds spend half of their lives on land and half in the water. Their diet consists of krill, fish, squid, and other small marine animals.

The largest species is the Emperor penguin, which can measure over three feet tall. The smallest species is the little blue penguin, which only grows about a foot tall. 

The larger ones, like the Emperor penguin, tend to inhabit colder climates. However, the smaller species, like the little blue penguin, tend to occupy more temperate climates.

Tom and Cait from Mortons on the Move in front of Alaska Arctic Circle sign
While heading to the Arctic Circle you can expect to find many unique wildlife species. But if you’re looking for penguins, you will be disappointed.

Are There Wild Penguins in Alaska?

Contrary to what you might think, Alaska is not home to penguins. Penguins only naturally inhabit locations in the Southern Hemisphere. Therefore, you won’t find any penguin communities near the Arctic. However, Alaska has its own penguin-like bird called the puffin. We will discuss this special bird in a little bit below.

Where Are Penguins?

Most penguin species live in the Southern Hemisphere. However, they aren’t found only in cold climates. Most people assume penguins only live in Antarctica, and that’s not true. Only a few species of penguin live that far south. 

For example, the Galápagos penguin lives as far north as the Galápagos Islands. The Antarctic Humboldt Current flows around these islands, which makes the water cooler for their survival. You’ll find major populations of penguins in Angola, Antarctica, Argentina, Australia, Chile, Namibia, New Zealand, and South Africa.

Penguins walking on ice in the arctic.
Penguins can be found all over the world, but unfortunately you won’t find them in Alaska.

Alaska Has Its Own Special Penguin-Like Bird: The Puffin

You can’t find penguins in Alaska, but you can see their cousin, the puffin. Like penguins, you can easily identify puffins by their black and white plumage. A unique trait is their large beaks that get brightly colored during the breeding season. 

The horned puffin and the tufted puffin make their home in the North Pacific. They’re both about 15 inches tall and weigh a little over a pound. You’ll find these birds near Siberia, Alaska, and British Columbia.

The Atlantic Coast has its own species called the Atlantic puffin. It’s slightly smaller than the other two in Alaska, measuring only 13 inches tall and weighing less than a pound. You’ll find these birds from northern Europe to northern France, near Iceland, Greenland, Norway, Canada, and Maine.

Puffins feast on fish and zooplankton. Because of their large beaks, they can hold several fish crosswise in their beaks at one time. Whereas other birds regurgitate fish for their chicks, the puffin brings back the whole fish.

Puffins sitting in Alaska
While you won’t find penguins in Alaska, you will find puffins.

Penguins Versus Puffins

As already mentioned, the distinctive dark and light plumage is similar between the penguin and puffin species. They both also have short, stubby wings that enable them to swim speedily in icy waters. 

But unlike penguins, puffins can fly. However, puffins do prefer to swim and do not fly much. Puffins are such sea birds that they spend most of their lives floating on the ocean or swimming beneath it.

Penguins have no land predators; thus no need to get away quickly in flight.  On the other hand, puffins do have predators like polar bears and foxes. A flightless bird wouldn’t survive in the North Pacific or North Atlantic regions. Penguins wouldn’t survive in Alaska with its myriad of predators.

Where Can You See Puffins in Alaska?

In the spring, tufted and horned puffins arrive to breed in Kenai Fjords National Park. This park lies in Southern Alaska near the Gulf of Alaska on the Kenai Peninsula. Katmai National Park and Preserve sits just across the peninsula to the southwest.

You can also find puffins in the Inside Passage, Southcentral, and Southwest Alaska along the coast. Book a wildlife cruise or kayaking trip if you want to catch a sighting. 

These tours depart from coastal communities like Seward, Valdez, and Kodiak. Other places to spot a puffin include Prince William Sound, the Alaska Maritime National Wildlife Refuge, and waters around Kodiak Island.

Visitors to Alaska can also see puffins at the Alaska SeaLife Center in Seward. This wildlife rescue, rehabilitation, and education center allow visitors to watch puffins dive to the bottom of their multi-level seabird enclosure for food. You can even book a Puffin Encounter for a behind-the-scenes look at these special birds.

Pro Tip: Spotting puffins aren’t the only reason you should visit Kenai Fjords National Park. Find out the other reasons Why Kenai Fjords National Park Should Be on Your Alaska Bucket List.

Group of puffins sitting on rock in Alaska.
Birdwatchers will love spotting not just puffins, but many other birds while in Alaska.

How Many Species of Birds Are in Alaska?

If you like birdwatching, don’t miss out on visiting Alaska, even if you can’t see penguins there. Depending on the season, you’ll see snow geese, bald eagles, sandhill cranes, warblers, ducks, and more. According to The Bird Guide, Alaska is home to more than 500 bird species. 

In addition, The Last Frontier is home to huge numbers of migratory birds. The state’s sheer size and range in climates mean hundreds of species of migratory birds visit each year. Millions of acres provide nesting grounds for these transient animals.

From the volcanic Aleutian Islands to the Inside Passage to the Chukchi Sea, the Alaska Maritime National Wildlife Refuge provides habitats for marine mammals and 40 million seabirds. 

The refuge is well known for its huge population of birds and its population of species found nowhere else on Earth. Endangered and threatened wildlife are also protected here.

What Time of Year Is Best for Bird Watching? 

The spring migration in March and April along the Dalton Highway from Fairbanks to Deadhorse and north to Prudhoe Bay is a prime time for bird watching. 

From May to September, you can watch millions of shore birds flock to the tundra for breeding in locations farther north like the Arctic Refuge and Gates of the Arctic National Park. 

Any time you visit Alaska during the non-winter months, your chances of seeing thousands of birds is high.

Pro Tip: Wondering what other wildlife you can find in Alaska? Find out Can You See Polar Bears in Alaska?

Alaska Salmon Fishing, Worthington Glacier & Kennicott Mine - Valdez & McCarthy | Go North Ep 14

Despite No Penguins, Don’t Discount Alaska’s Cool Birds

So are there penguins in Alaska? No, penguins don’t live in Alaska. But you can find a plethora of other cool birds worth checking out. From the white-tailed eagle to the great spotted woodpecker and more, The Last Frontier houses millions of birds. 

Whether you want to trek to northern regions near the Arctic or prefer to stay closer to Anchorage, you’ll have plenty of opportunities to see these magnificent creatures in the wild. The little puffins are waiting for you.

Will you visit Alaska anytime soon? Tell us in the comments!

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About Mortons on the Move

Tom & Caitlin Morton of Mortons on the Move gave up the stationary life for one where they are constantly on the move. They are full-time travelers, television hosts, and digital media producers.
They left their jobs, sold their house and possessions, and hit the road in September 2015 in their full-time “home on wheels”. Since then they have traveled the US, Canada, and even internationally by RV.
Now, they are Discovery Channel & PBS TV Co-stars of The RVers, producers of “Go North” on Amazon Prime, co-founders and instructors of RV Masterclass, and contributing authors for Hwy.co and an Arizona travel guide.

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