Glacier Bay did not exist when English Captain James Cook explored Alaska in 1778. But an extraordinary glacial retreat has left a 70-mile bay and numerous inlets, creating a spectrum of successional habitats. Mosses, lichens, and fireweed abound in areas where glaciers recently receded, while lush spruce and hemlock forests blanket areas where they receded long ago. There are also birds: The park is an important breeding area for murres, alcids, guillemots, and puffins.
Visiting Glacier Bay by cruise ship provides an opportunity to see Alaskan birds and one of the world’s spectacular natural wonders. Many birds will be distant, but there are few other ways to comfortably see birds such as Kittlitz’s Murrelet, Horned and Tufted Puffins, Black-legged Kittiwake, and Arctic Tern. Plus, calving glaciers in picturesque fjords appeal to birders and non-birders alike.
At a Glance
Click on the coordinates below to view location:
Fjords, glaciers, icebergs, wild coastlines.
Cruise ships don’t dock in the park.
More than 280 species. May-September: Harlequin Duck, Surf, White-winged, and Black Scoters, Barrow’s Goldeneye, Common Merganser, Red-throated, Pacific, and Common Loons, Pelagic Cormorant, Bald Eagle, Black Oystercatcher, Red-necked Phalarope, Parasitic Jaeger, Common Murre, Pigeon Guillemot, Marbled, Kittlitz’s, and Ancient Murrelets, Cassin’s Auklet, Horned and Tufted Puffins, Black-legged Kittiwake, Bonaparte’s, Mew, Herring, and Glaucous-winged Gulls, Arctic Tern, Northwestern Crow.
When to go
May-September; peak season is June-August. Book early (6-12 months in advance) for best cabin selection, as Glacier Bay cruises tend to sell out.
Depends on cruise line. Two official park bird checklists available on website at www.nps.gov/glba/learn/nature/birds.htm.
National park. No separate fee for cruise ship passengers. National Park Service rangers will board cruise ships when they are in the park, providing commentary, answering questions, and staffing an information desk.
Weather in southeast Alaska is highly variable, even in summer. Dress in layers and be prepared for rain. Keep an eye out for other iconic Alaska wildlife, including grizzly bears, mountain goats, sea otters, Steller sea lions, and humpback whales. Cruise ships are stable enough for scopes. Pelagic species, including Black-footed Albatross and Northern Fulmar, are possible on several parts of most Alaskan cruises. If you’re in the town of Gustavus, head to Bartlett Cove, near the park’s visitor center, to search for songbirds.
For more info
Glacier Bay National Park & Preserve, (907) 697-2230
Plan your visit
Mendenhall Glacier Recreation Area, Hotspot Near You No. 41
12 miles from Juneau. One of the most accessible glaciers in the state. Can be good for many birds, including an Arctic Tern colony in summer.
Adjacent to Juneau’s airport. One of the finest birding locations in southeastern Alaska. Good for shorebirds and waterfowl, particularly in May and August-September. The Dike Trail is popular with birders.