Sounds from Alaska: Concert of Feathers

With the return of spring to Alaska, Orion contributor Hank Lentfer continues his Sounds from Alaska series, which debuted last year on the Orion blog. Listen to sounds from last spring, summer, and fall here.

I spent last week camped on a river delta along Alaska’s southern coast to take in the spectacle of spring migration. With each passing hour the mudflats and alder thickets around the tent filled with the fluttering, whistling, passing purr of feathers. Thousands upon thousands of shorebirds—western sandpipers, dunlin, and dowitchers—probed the mud alongside a mix of widgeon and teal, scaup and mallards. Snipe winnowed over the sedge flats. Pipits pipped amongst fresh shoots of grass. Warblers warbled. Hummingbirds hummed. Loons looned. Falcons and hawks zipped through the feathered masses, eating their fill.

I tried, over coffee one morning, to imagine the combined power of each tiny puff of wind created by each down stroke of every single wing carrying each feathered bundle of life north. If each tiny puff were gathered into a single roaring gust, how big would it be? Strong enough to knock over a federal building? An entire city?

When I found a single primary feather from a mew gull washed in by the tide, I picked it up, closed my eyes, and listened to the frenzy of feathers thrumming all around. I thought of all those feathers sharing the same basic structure yet making such a glorious diversity of sounds. Feathers through air. Such a simple instrument creating such a complex concert.

The attached audio contains a tiny snippet of the ongoing, never-ending concert of feathers.


Hank Lentfer, author of Faith of Cranes, is ear-deep in a new career recording the whistles, clicks, groans, and splashes of his wild neighbors. Image via Rik Ruff.


  1. Cool to hear such a common eastern bird as a yellow warbler on a recording from the wilds of Alaska.

    Great montage, and the moment the sharp shinned hawk blasts through the sandpipers is sublime.

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