6 Surprising Facts About Arctic Birds

Arctic birds feel right at home in an icy climate.

Snow Bunting (plectrophenax Nivalis)Glenn Bartley
Snow bunting perched on a rock in Churchill, Manitoba, Canada

Learn more about the birds that feel right at home in the Arctic’s icy climate. Arctic birds, like snow buntings and arctic terns, have made some amazing adaptations to be able to withstand the polar cold.

Arctic Terns

Talk about an incredible journey! Arctic terns hold the record for the farthest migration. One trip from their breeding grounds in the Arctic to their winter territory in Antarctica is about 29,000 miles. That impressive zigzagging flight south is done at sea—they are rarely spotted from land.

Common Ravens

common raven birdsCourtesy Jill Conner

The common raven is one of the smartest birds on the planet. Thanks to that ingenuity, ravens survive in all kinds of habitats—from Arctic tundra to Texas heat.


Alaska's state bird, the willow ptarmigan, in Denali National Park at the beginning of winter in the middle of molting from summer to winter plumageTroutnut/Shutterstock
Willow ptarmigan

Two of the three ptarmigan species, rock and willow, live mainly in the Arctic. The third, white-tailed, also lives as far south as Colorado. (Psst! The “p” in ptarmigan is silent.)

Peregrine Falcons

Fast-flying peregrine falcons are found on six continents.

Common and Hoary Redpolls

common redpoll, winter finch forecastCourtesy Jeffry Weymier
Common redpolls are Arctic birds that may visit your bird feeders in winter

After studying the DNA of 77 redpolls, researchers found almost no genetic difference between common and hoary redpolls. This explains why the two are so difficult to tell apart.

Check out the updated winter finch forecast.

Snow Buntings

Male snow buntings head to their breeding grounds in the high Arctic in early April. The area is still covered in snow, and temperatures are as low as 22 degrees below zero.

Read about other cold-weather birds! Meet the Boreal Birds

Kirsten Schrader
Kirsten has more than 15 years of experience writing and editing birding and gardening content. As content director of Birds & Blooms, she leads the team of editors and freelance writers sharing tried-and-true advice for nature enthusiasts who love to garden and feed birds in their backyards. Since joining Birds & Blooms 17 years ago, Kirsten has held roles in digital and print, editing direct-to-consumer books, running as many as five magazines at a time, and managing special interest publications. Kirsten has traveled to see amazing North American birds and attended various festivals, including the Sedona Hummingbird Festival, the Rio Grande Bird Festival, The Biggest Week in American Birding Festival, and the Cape May Spring Festival. She has also witnessed the epic sandhill crane migration while on a photography workshop trip to Colorado. Kirsten has participated in several GardenComm and Outdoor Writers Association of America annual conferences and is a member of the Wisconsin Society for Ornithology. When she's not researching, writing, and editing all things birding and gardening, Kirsten is enjoying the outdoors with her nature-loving family. She and her husband are slowly chipping away at making their small acreage the backyard of their dreams.