Birds of The Yukon

YK Territorial Bird Common Raven

YK Territorial Bird Common Raven

Birds of The Yukon Specialties

  • Common raven
  • Wandering tattler
  • White-tailed ptarmigan
  • Blue throat (Eurasian species)

268 species in 37 families

The Yukon is the western most of Canada’s three northern territories, and is located in the northwest corner of the mainland. The territory is the approximate shape of a triangle, bordering the US state of Alaska to the west, the Northwest Territories to the east and British Columbia to the south. Its northern coast is on the Beaufort Sea.

The Yukon can be divided into two broad geographical regions – the boreal forest belt inn the south and the Arctic tundra in the north. The province also contains a pocket desert. The Carcross Desert is 250 hectares of sand dunes edged by the boreal forest. Mount Logan, Canada’s highest peak, at 6,050 metres, is located in southwestern Yukon.

The very sparsely populated territory abounds with snow-melt lakes and white-capped mountains.

Most of the territory is in the watershed of the Yukon River. The southern Yukon is dotted with a large number of large, long and narrow glacier-fed alpine lakes, most of which flow into the Yukon River system.

Yukon Web Links

Yukon Bird Club

Where Do You Want To Go Birding in the Yukon?

Birding Pals in the Yukon

The following article is from BeakingOff, an outstanding bird blog written by a teenager in the Yukon.

The History of Yukon Birding

In the Yukon, the earliest written records of birds were documented back in 1860-62 by Robert Kennicott over a century and a half ago. The Yukon has a surprisingly long and rich history of bird watching despite it’s age and the small number of bird-lovers/naturalists who have been able call it home over the years.

Bird life in the Yukon between 1860 and the early 1890s was mainly documented by fur traders, who spent a great deal of time in the wilderness on their trap lines. Due to the variety of habitats, the amount of land that the trap lines covered, and the observations of these trappers, early knowledge of Yukon bird life was improving. The Klondike Gold Rush brought a lot of new interest in bird life with all of the new people who arrived in the Yukon, seeking to strike it rich with gold. During the time of this important historical event a man named Wilfred Osgood and his assistant Louis Bishop documented birds along the Yukon River for a United States Biological Survey. Louis Bishop wrote a scientific journal report about ‘Birds of the Yukon Region’ which you can view here. It is a highly interesting report based on the results of early exploration in the Yukon, back when very little was known about birds and most of their names were completely different. Interest in Yukon birds continued even after the Gold Rush ended and the Yukon was once again people-sparse. Trappers (including Clement Lewis, a trapper at Teslin Lake) continued to record incidental observations of their sightings along the trap line, and others such as George and Martha Black collected many bird specimens for study. The efforts of these early birders and naturalists created a starting base of knowledge about birds of the Yukon for future generations to build on.

The construction of highways such as the Alaska Highway, Canol Road, and the Haines Road in the 1940s allowed easier access to a wide variety of bird habitats and areas that were rarely visited by birders before. In 1946, enough information had been gathered on Yukon bird life that A.L. Rand (who worked at the National Museum of Canada) was able to write and publish the very first list of Yukon birds.

In the 1970s, bird lovers started taking a more serious interest in monitoring birds in the Yukon. During this era, the Peregrin Falcon was in major decline which prompted a new survey program started by Dave Mossop, with its purpose being to monitor other Yukon bird populations. The Yukon Raptor Monitoring Database was created and contained information about breeding raptors in the Yukon. The construction of the Dempster Highway allowed access in the Dempster area and the first records of birds in that area started coming in. Yearly long-term surveys from around North America were brought to the Yukon including the North American Breeding Bird Survey and the Christmas Bird Counts. It was also during this time when Helmut Grünberg began writing reports on Yukon Birds and submitting them to the National Audubon Society publication American Birds, a move that connected the Yukon to the rest of the North American birding community. The 1980s was significant in that it marked the beginning of the decade long Kluane Boreal Forest Ecosystem  Project, a detailed study of population dynamics in the boreal forest that incorporated the ecology of various bird groups. Government organizations such as the Canadian Wildlife Service and the Yukon Department of Renewable Resources initiated and expanded other work on waterfowl, grouse, and birds of prey in the form of surveys  and studies though out the Yukon.

The 1990s was when migration monitoring of shorebirds and gulls really got going, followed by raptor and waterfowl migration watches in 2000-2002. Regular counts of gulls and shorebirds conducted by Cameron Eckert, Pam Sinclair, and Helmut Grünberg  gathered a significant amount of data on migration in the southern lakes region; regular migrants were recorded along with a wide variety of rarities and uncommon species. These counting and monitoring efforts revealed the importance of the southern lakes region as a resting migratory hotspot for waterfowl and improved understanding of the migration patterns of water-focused bird groups. M’Clintock Bay (Swan Haven), Tagish Narrows, Shallow Bay Nares Lake, Johnson’s Crossing, and Nisutlin River Delta are critical migratory waterfowl hotspots in the southern lakes region, and are recognized internationally as Important Bird Areas. As a birder, I am very lucky to be living in Tagish as I get to see so much diversity in bird species. In 1991 the Cooperative Roadside Waterfowl Breeding Population Survey was initiated as well as the Trumpeter Swan Surveys in 1990, largely coordinated by biologist Jim Hawkings along with colleagues from the Canadian Wildlife Service, and Yukon Department of Environment. Studies in the southeastern region of the Yukon revealed the area to be a goldmine in terms of the numerous species nesting there that were unknown or considered vagrants in the rest of the Yukon Territory, such as the awe-inspiring Black Tern colony at Blind Lake (25km east of Watson Lake). Palm Warbler was an exciting new species discovered in the Peel Plateau (northeast corner of the YT) when surveys were conducted there for the first time. From 2000-2002, biologists such as Jukka Jantunen did spring and fall migration monitoring in the Whitehorse area, focusing mainly on raptor and waterfowl movements. During the same time the first Yukon Bird Observatory was established.

Albert Creek Bird Observatory was started by Ted Murphy-Kelly just outside of Watson Lake in 2001; the first of three. This observatory acted as an important tool in documenting the patterns and timing of songbird migration in south-east Yukon, and still does today. Teslin Lake Bird Observatory was established in spring 2005 by Ben Schonewille and Ted Murphy-Kelly, and after a few years of testing the site began full-scale migration monitoring in 2008. McIntyre Marsh Bird Observatory was established in 2009 as a public demonstration site for education on migratory birds, rather than a full-scale migration monitoring site. The observatory is also used to collect information on the use of the McIntyre Marsh wetlands by migratory birds for conservation purposes. McIntyre Creek is an important green space within Whitehorse City Limits, and the source of much debate between conservation groups and city developers. The Society of Yukon Bird Observatories (SOYBO) was registered as a non-profit organization in 2010, and now acts as an umbrella under which the three observatories formally operate. The current objectives of SOYBO are: “to contribute to the conservation of migratory birds in western North America through monitoring, research and education; to make the public aware of the value of the avifauna of the Yukon Territory and to educate the public in recognition of such through creating educational opportunities for youth/students and the public, and to work with other societies, organizations and individuals  having similar objectives to this society, within and outside of the territory.” (Sourced from the Yukon Bird Observatory website)

To contact the Yukon Bird Observatories Email Ben at teslin.bird.banding@gmail.comor Ted at You can read their blog here and check out their website here.



4 Responses to Birds of The Yukon

  1. Pat Bumstead says:

    Thank you for letting us know – the link to your impressive website has been updated!

  2. Yukon Bird Clun website is now at if you could please update the link 🙂

  3. Pat says:

    You are talking about a Black-billed magpie. These clever corvids are in the same family as the Raven and Whiskey Jack (Grey Jay). They are very abundant throughout the wooded areas of the western provinces and states, but are not found along the coast or in the southwest. They have been featured on my blog many times, as I have a lot of them in the yard, and they’re here year round. You can read more about them at Glad you liked them!

  4. Michael Hendricks says:

    I was recently in Yukon Territory, south of Whitehorse, out at Annie Lake. I was there in May of this year. I noticed one particular bird that seemed to be common to the area, but we have no such bird down in Southern California.
    I would describe it as black and white, very vibrant black and white, with the colors separate. The bird is about the size of a small raven. I heard it may be a Whiskey Jack, but any pictures I have seen of a Whiskey Jack are more grey in color. Could you be of any assistance. I would love to get a picture of the bird in question.

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