Delta Junction-area birders participating in the annual Christmas Bird Count spotted a rare species not normally seen this far north in the winter.
Steve DuBois and other birders in the Delta Junction area are all aflutter that two of the four Eurasian collared doves have been hanging around the area since last summer were spotted again in last week’s bird count.
“We were anxious to see if the doves would still be present for the Christmas bird count. And sure enough, they were,” DuBois said.
That’s significant, especially this late into winter, says Gail Mayo. She heads up Fairbanks’s Arctic Audubon Society chapter.
“Oh yeah, it would be noteworthy. And it would definitely be a first for the Delta count,” Mayo said. “It would definitely be a first if we were to see one in Fairbanks.”
DuBois is a retired state Fish and Game Department wildlife biologist who coordinates the Delta-area bird count. He says even a summer sighting would be unusual for a bird species that was first spotted in the Western Hemisphere less than four decades ago.
“They got into the Bahamas and then into (the) United States back in the 1970s,” he said, “and have been expanding their range north and west since then.”
DuBois says the doves were first spotted in Alaska around Ketchikan, in the summer of 2006. He says there was a few sightings around the Interior in recent years, before four showed up at a bird-feeder in Delta last summer and took up residence.
“Of course, the big question was, y’know, these were doves that were not native – could they survive the winter?”
He suspects they probably wouldn’t have lived this long in a typical winter. And that, if it ever gets really cold this winter, they probably wouldn’t make it.
“My guess is that they probably will not establish themselves year-round, through the winter,” he said
But DuBois says he believes the appearance of the Eurasian collared dove this time of year is part of a trend of bird species ranging farther north as the Earth’s climate continues to warm.
“Well, the birds are definitely expanding north and west, and have been since the ’70s,” he said. “And now they’ve made it up into southern and coastal Alaska, where they seem to be established. And I would guess that’s probably due to climate change.”
Maybe so, says Mayo, with the Fairbanks Audubon chapter.
“Well it certainly could be a factor,” she said, but added that more data is needed. Mayo says that’s why the Christmas Bird Count is so important, especially in northern locales like here in the Interior.
“National Audubon has started doing some huge studies of Christmas bird count data as one of their main sources to see if they are looking at trends. And they definitely have some examples of birds (that) seem to be responding to climate change,” she said.
To find out more about the Christmas Bird Count and other birding projects around the Interior, go online to arcticaudubon.org.