Saturday, August 8, 2015 Molting Seabirds at Alaska Sealife Center

Seward, Alaska

The Alaska Sealife Center offers an intimate peek into the lives of select seabirds, mirroring their brethren in the wild. Many of the sea ducks are in eclipse plumage now, in a constant state of shedding feathers and growing new ones. Wings are stubby, their new primary and secondary feathers sheathed in papery wrappers, growing longer every day, ready to unfurl.

If you’ve been wondering where all the wild HARLEQUIN drakes went, leaving only females, wonder no more. A closer look reveals that, while both genders resemble females, the drakes are darker.

The KING EIDER drake, the most popular bird (after the puffins) when in breeding plumage, looked awful at the end of July. His once colorful face was pocked with green fuzz and white splotches. A week later, soft brown feathers replaced them, pleasing but unremarkable. It must be humbling for such an exquisite bird to be so drab.

The SMEW drake, also a stunning bird in his “cracked ice” breeding plumage, closely resembled his female. The short, sheathed primary feathers were easy to spot on both birds.

One HORNED PUFFIN sported a skinny, fuzzy neck that made his head appear enormous and quite comical. Most of the other puffins and RHINOCEROUS AUKLETS seemed to be hanging on to their various tufts and bill sheaths for now.

The RED-LEGGED KITTIWAKES have no trouble flying. One pair is raising a fat little chick high up on their cliff side nest.

It’s hard to leave the fascinating seabird habitat, but there is much to see and enjoy. The “Summer of Sharks” special traveling exhibit featuring the “Buzz Saw Sharks of Long Ago” and artist/scientist Ray Troll is on display until September 7th. The fossils, sculptures, artwork, and videos are on both floors. It is an incredible exhibit!

Happy Birding!
Carol Griswold
Seward Sporadic Bird Report Reporter

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