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Song Birds

Population Status

The Yukon North Slope supports a number of songbird species, with diversity increasing toward the south, in major river valleys with more complex shrub and tree habitats.

Among the other songbird features are impressive densities of nesting Lapland Longspurs and the less common Smith's Longspur on the coastal plain. American Pipits are relatively common in the foothills and inland. Horned Larks are common in dry upland tundra areas, and Gray-crowned Rosy-Finches are at even higher elevations, in areas of exposed gravel or rock. Snow Bunting are found right along the coast, often nesting in piles of driftwood. Both Common and Hoary redpolls are found on the North Slope nesting in willows. Common sparrows include American Tree Sparrow, Savannah Sparrow, Fox Sparrow and White-crowned Sparrow. Yellow Warblers are relatively common breeders in the taller willow thickets, especially near water. Gray-cheeked Thrushes are found in dense tall shrubs along rivers, and Say's Phoebes can be found along river banks and cliffs. There are three species of swallows breeding in the North Slope - Bank, Barn (rarely), and Cliff swallows.

The entire Canadian populations of Bluethroat and Yellow Wagtail are on the Yukon North Slope. Yellow Wagtails are fairly common at several locations on the coastal plain, and nesting has been confirmed. Bluethroats are rare to uncommon, and have been noted in the vicinity of the Blow, Running, Babbage, and Clarence rivers. Bluethroats are found slightly further inland than Yellow Wagtails. Nesting was confirmed in 2003. The rarely seen Gray-headed Chickadee is found further inland on the Firth River, and is considered rare on the Yukon North Slope and elsewhere in Canada.

Habitat Features

Songbirds use all habitats on the North Slope, each species having its own particular requirements. Yellow Wagtails are found on the coastal plain, on moist tundra with a shrub component, often adjacent to creeks or near wet draws. Bluethroats are slightly further inland, in medium to tall shrubs along rivers and creeks and around lakes. Lapland Longspurs and Savannah Sparrows use a variety of tundra habitats on the coastal plain. American Tree, Fox and White-crowned sparrows use a variety of shrubby habitats. Even the most barren upland habitats are home to Horned Larks and Gray-crowned Rosy-Finches.Ivvavik National Park contains key habitat for rare Yukon and Canadian breeders, especially Bluethroat and Yellow Wagtail.




In this remote and unique ecosystem, Arctic songbirds on their breeding grounds offer a welcome sight for travelers and birdwatchers alike. Some, such as the male Snow Bunting and Lapland Longspur, are only seen in their bright summer colours in the north. This is a delight to travelers from the south. Seeing an American Robin on the Arctic tundra can also pique the interest of summer tourists whose common experience is to see these birds collecting earthworms in a suburban setting surrounded by trees. For more enthusiastic birdwatchers, the chance to see rare North American species, such as Bluethroat or Yellow Wagtail, heightens the excitement. As an audible and visual component of the Arctic ecosystem, songbirds offer another dimension to the visitors’ experience.


Threats to songbird abundance and distribution are largely due to activities on their wintering range and during migration. Habitat loss related to industrial activity, removal of driftwood logs, and global climate change on the Yukon North Slope are all potential threats to songbirds.

Species at Risk Status


Research and Monitoring

Population monitoring:

Parks Canada has conducted breeding bird surveys at Sheep Creek and Margaret Lake in the Firth River watershed since 1999. There is also an ongoing program to record species observed on Herschel Island.


Habitat use and productivity of Lapland Longspurs was studied in the 1970s on the Yukon North Slope. Parks Canada is conducting a songbird monitoring program in Ivvavik National Park. The Canadian Wildlife Service conducted studies on bird distribution and habitat mapping in 1992 and 1993, and on rare songbirds in 2003.A report on nesting Bluethroat, documented during the 2003 fieldwork, can be found at


Studies of breeding biology and habitat use would enhance the ability to identify and protect important songbird habitat. There is very limited distribution and migration data. Even less information exists on habitat use in the interior mountains. There is very limited life history information, including information on predation and the impact of extreme weather events on nesting success. There are no detailed maps of distribution or habitat for any species.The Clarence River Breeding Bird Survey (2003) concluded that the bird communities of Ivvavik National Park should be prioritized for further study with emphasis on habitat relationships for all species and the breeding status of poorly known and potential breeders such as Pomarine Jaeger, Yellow-billed Loon, King Eider, and Ruddy Turnstone.


Regulations under the Migratory Birds Convention Act apply to most species of songbirds.

Management Jurisdictions
Ivvavik National Park IFA, Migratory Birds Convention, Migratory Birds Regulations Parks Canada Migratory Birds Convention

Western Hemisphere Shorebird Reserve Network
nesting, staging, migration
Hershel Island Territorial Park Yukon Wildlife Act YTG
East of the Babbage River National Parks Act YTG
Adjoining NWT NWT Wildlife Act GNWT

Community-based Information

Community-based information on this species may also be found in the reports of the annual community-based monitoring program conducted in Aklavik and neighbouring communities by the Arctic Borderlands Ecological Knowledge Co-op.

Related Literature and Information Sources

Eckert, C.D., 2007. Personal communication, Government of Yukon, Department of Environment.

Hawkings, J. 2002. Personal Communication, Canadian Wildlife Service, Whitehorse.

Parks Canada. 2003. Annual Report of Research and Monitoring in National Parks of the Western Arctic 2003.

Salter, R.E., M.A. Gollop, S.R. Johnson, W.R. Koski, and C.E. Tull. 1980. Distribution and abundance of birds on the Arctic Coastal Plain of northern Yukon and adjacent Northwest Territories, 1971-1976. Canadian Field-Naturalist 94(3): 219-238.

Sinclair P.H., W.A. Nixon, C.D. Eckert and N.L. Hughes (eds). 2003. Birds of the Yukon Territory. UBC Press Vancouver. 596 pp.

Yukon Bird Club. 2000. Check list of the birds of Herschel Island.

American Robin (Turdus migratorius) - Kuyapigaqturutin

Updated January 2008

Community-based Information

In 2003, the Wildlife Management Advisory Council (North Slope) and the Aklavik Hunters and Trappers Committee undertook a project to record traditional knowledge of certain birds and animals on the Yukon North Slope. The observations, comments and concerns expressed by Aklavik residents as part of this study were as follows:

  • People have long appreciated the songs of robins as dozens of them pass through Aklavik in May on their way north. One person recalled her grandmother describing the spring call with the words she spelled as “guuyapiaq suuratin suuratin”, similar to the species name provided.
  • A few robins are seen in the summer by people active in the delta. People with camps on the coast that are not on sandspits occasionally see robins.
  • Robins are seen as they pass by Aklavik on their way south in the fall.
  • Two elders said that numbers were down.

Community-based information on this species may also be found in the reports of the annual community-based monitoring program conducted in Aklavik and neighbouring communities by the Arctic Borderlands Ecological Knowledge Co-op.

Related Literature and Information Sources

Wildlife Management Advisory Council (North Slope) and the Aklavik Hunters and Trappers Committee. 2003. Aklavik Inuvialuit describe the status of certain birds and animals on the Yukon North Slope, March, 2003. Final Report. Wildlife Management Advisory Council (North Slope), Whitehorse, Yukon.