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Calidris virgata

Nonbreeding Surfbirds stick like glue to the west coast of North and South America, but breed on rocky slopes of alpine tundra in Alaska and Yukon Territory. Their migration south can take them to the Pacific Ocean coastlines from southern Alaska to Tierra del Fuego.

First discovered by Europeans in 1778 during Captain Cook’s voyage to Alaska, this bird was thought to be in the sandpiper family (Tringa). In 1839, believing these birds were related to turnstones, John James Audubon classified them in the genus Aphriza. Scholarly papers written in the late 1960s argued these birds should be reclassified as genus Calidris and DNA data discovered in 2012 supported this position. Today science considers them closely related to knots.

Early native Alaskans reported that these birds nested on bare mountains in the interior, but were dismissed by scientists of the day. Nearly 150 years after these birds were discovered, no one had ever found a nest. In 1926 Joseph Dixon, who grew up in Escondido California, found these birds near Denali, proving how right the native Alaskans had been and how arrogantly dismissive those early scientists had been.

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