Birds

Birds

There is a large variety of marine and land birds in the Cunningham Inlet area, including Arctic terns, three types of jaegers, snow buntings, guillemots, kittiwakes, fulmars, two species of loons, snow geese, brant geese and peregrine falcons. Only two types of birds remain in the area over the winter: ravens and ptarmigan. The rest all fly south.

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Ptarmigan

Lagopus muta

The rock ptarmigan, a medium-sized member of the grouse family, is seasonally camouflaged, meaning its feathers moult from white in winter to brown in spring or summer. At Arctic Watch they hang out in rocky areas, particularly above the scientist’s cabin.

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Arctic tern

Sterna paradisaea

This migratory species sees two summers each year as it travels from its northern breeding grounds along a winding route to the oceans around Antarctica and back, a round trip of approximately 70,900 km (c. 44,300 miles). This is the longest regular migration by any known animal. At Arctic Watch terns can be found along the coast and sometimes at Inukshuk Lake.

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Parasitic jaeger, long-tailed jaeger, pomarine

Arctic skua or Parasitic skua

These large aggressive birds are wonderful fliers and great to watch. At Arctic Watch, if one approaches the area of the nest, the parents will make a great dance to draw you away. If this fails, they can become quite aggressive, to the point of swooping down and hitting your head. The parasitic jaegers tend to nest near the ocean and the long-tailed more inland. We believe that the long-tailed jaegers prey on lemmings, because their presence seems to be tied to the lemming population. Jaegers come in a variety of black, brown and coffee-cream colors. Occasionally we see pomarine jaegers as well.

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Snow buntings

Plectrophenax nivalis

Snow buntings are like the Arctic sparrow. They are easily identified by their large, white wing patches. The breeding male has all-white plumage and a black back; the breeding female, grey-black. At Arctic Watch they are the most common bird. Snow buntings make a distinctive “per-r-r-rit” whistle. They nest in rock crevices all over the place and are common prey for falcons. 

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Black guillemot

Cepphus grylle

These are mainly black sea birds with a bit of white colouring. At Arctic Watch, we see these birds as we drive along the shore to Polar Bear Point. 

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Thick-billed murre

Uria lomvia

At 40 to 44 cm in length, with a 64 to 75 cm wingspan, adult birds are black on the head, neck, back and wings with white underparts. The lower section of their faces becomes white in winter. The bill is long and pointed, and they have a small rounded black tail. These birds breed in large colonies on coastal cliffs, their single egg is laid directly on a cliff ledge. This birds nest on Prince Leopold Island, off the north coast of Somerset. They also nest in cliffs on Somerset.

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Black-legged kittiwake

Rissa tridactyla

Black-legged kittiwake adults are roughly 40 cm in length with a wingspan of 90 to 100 cm. These birds form large, dense, noisy colonies during the summer reproductive period, often sharing habitat with murres. They are the only species of gulls that are exclusively cliff-nesting. Kittiwake chicks are downy and white, and since their nests are on extremely steep cliffs, they instinctively sit still in the nest to avoid falling off. At Arctic Watch we see them on the coast, particularly to the east.

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Northern Fulmar

Fulmarus glacialis

The northern fulmar has a wingspan of 102 to 112 cm (40 to 44 in) and is 46 cm (18 in) in length. The species is grey and white with a pale yellow, thick bill and bluish legs. The northern fulmar tarts breeding at between six and twelve years old. It is monogamous, forms long-term pair bonds and returns to the same nest site year after year. The nest is a scrape on a grassy ledge or a saucer of vegetation on the ground, lined with softer material. At Arctic Watch we see these birds at Polar Bear Point.

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Arctic loon and red-throated loon

Gavia arctica and Gavia stellata

Loons are beautiful birds with wingspans of up to 122 cm. Arctic loons have a grey head, black throat, white underparts and a chequered black-and-white mantle. Red-throated loons are smaller and have a triangular red patch on the throat. At Arctic Watch loons tend to nest in small ponds and lakes. They fly to the ocean for feeding. As they fly back and forth they emit a “quacking” like a classic duck sound!

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Snow goose

Chen caerulescens

The snow goose has two colour plumage morphs, white (snow) or gray/blue (blue), thus the common description as “snows” and “blues.” Long-term pair bonds (they mate for life) are usually formed in the second year, although breeding does not usually start until the third year. After the female lays the first of three to five eggs, she lines the nest with down. The female incubates for 22 to 25 days, and the young leave the nest within a few hours of hatching. The young feed themselves, but are protected by both parents. After 42 to 50 days they can fly, but they remain with their family until they are two to three years old.

At Arctic Watch the snow geese nest in many different areas, but once the chicks are hatched they often go to Sunday Lake and spend their remaining time in the Arctic there. 

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Rough-legged hawks

Buteo lagopus

This is a medium-large bird of prey, between 50 and 60 cm long with a 130 cm wingspan. Its feet are feathered to the toes (its scientific name means “hare-footed”) as an adaptation to its Arctic home range. At Arctic Watch these hawks build large nests on cliffs. They are the only birds that build a real nest and they return to the same nest year after year.

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Peregrine falcons

Falco peregrinus

This is a large, crow-sized falcon with a blue-gray back, barred white underparts, and a black head and “moustache.” It can reach speeds of over 320 km/h (200 mph) in a stoop, making it one of the fastest creatures on the planet. At Arctic Watch the falcons nest in cliffs. They don’t build a nest but sometimes use old hawk nests. One can hear their distinct call from far away.

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Snowy Owl 

Bubo scandiacus

One of Arctic Watch's most beautiful birds, the Snowy Owl is found in the Northern Circumpolar region, where it spends the summer months north of latitude 60 degrees north. Nesting on the ground, the Snowy Owl has 5 - 14 eggs. At Arctic Watch, the Snowy Owls feed on lemmings. 

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