Mike Denega

The Yakutat Tern Festival is a celebration of the natural and cultural resources of Yakutat, Alaska. The festival is family friendly and offers activities for birders as well as non-birders, including field trips, seminars, kid’s activities, evening banquets and other programs, a race, and art.
May 27, 8:00 AM AKDT – May 30, 4:00 PM AKDT
Yakutat High School,
Yakutat, AK, USA
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Yakutat, AK: Where nature is at its grandest. 

Yakutat is one of Northwest Life and Travel's 52 places to get away! 

Yakutat Tern Festival registration and base is located at the Yakutat High School.

429 Forest Highway 10

Tern Fest Specials

Leonard's Landing

Featured Artist 2021:



From his studio on a hill above Tongass Narrows in rainy Ketchikan, Alaska, Ray Troll creates fishy images that swim into museums, books and magazines, and onto t-shirts worn around the world. He draws his inspiration from extensive field work and the latest scientific discoveries, bringing a street-smart sensibility to the worlds of ichthyology and paleontology.

Ray’s unique blend of art and science evolved into a traveling exhibit, “Dancing to the Fossil Record,” that opened at the California Academy of Sciences in San Francisco in 1995. The exhibit included his original drawings, gigantic fossils, fish tanks, murals, an original soundtrack, a dance floor, an interactive computer installation, and the one-of-a-kind Evolvo art car. In 1997 the exhibit traveled to the Oregon Coast Aquarium in Newport, in 1998 to the Academy of Natural Sciences in Philadelphia, and in 1999 to the Denver Museum of Nature and Science.

Ray followed that tour a few years later with “Sharkabet, a Sea of Sharks from A to Z” in venues including the Science Museum of Minnesota, the Anchorage Museum of History and Art, the Alaska State Museum and the Museum of the Rockies in Bozeman, Montana. Ray went on to act as the art director for the Miami Museum of Science’s “Amazon Voyage” traveling exhibit. He installed “The Buzz Saw Sharks of Long Ago,” inspired by his favorite extinct shark, Helicoprion, at the Idaho Museum of Natural History, Point Defiance Zoo and Aquarium in Tacoma, the Alaska SeaLife Center in Seward, and the Oregon Museum of Natural and Cultural History. He now has another touring show based on his book Cruisin’ the Fossil Freeway with Dr. Kirk Johnson.

In 2007, Ray was awarded a gold medal for distinction in the natural history arts by the Academy of Natural Sciences in Philadelphia, and in 2006 received the Alaska Governor’s award for the arts. In 2011, Ray and Kirk Johnson were jointly awarded a John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation Fellowship to support their ambitious book project, “The Eternal Coastline: the Best of the Fossil West from Baja to Barrow.” He has appeared on the Discovery Channel, lectured at Cornell, Harvard, and Yale, shown work at the Smithsonian and has been honored by the naming of a species of ratfish, Hydrolagus trolli, and a genus of extinct herring, Trollichthys.

Ray earned a Bachelor of Arts degree from Bethany College in Lindsborg, Kansas in 1977 and an MFA in studio arts from Washington State University in 1981. In 2008 he was awarded an honorary doctorate in fine arts from the University of Alaska Southeast.

Ray and his wife Michelle run the Soho Coho gallery in Ketchikan appropriately situated in an old historic house of ill repute located on a salmon spawning stream. Ray believes that everyone should be in a band regardless of talent or ambition, and leads an ensemble of musical renegades called the Ratfish Wranglers who perform in festivals, saloons, and dance parties around Alaska and the Pacific Northwest.

Yakutat Tern Festival

Registration IS CLOSED pending finalization of schedule due to COVID-19

Registration in advance is $40.

Registration during the festival is $50.


We are excited to add your names to the list! Please be patient with us while we get some kinks worked out with our new site. Feel free to e-mail us anytime!


The TENTH Annual Yakutat Tern Festival is

May 27 - May 30, 2021.

The festival is a celebration of the natural and cultural resources of Yakutat, Alaska. Yakutat hosts one of the largest and southernmost known nesting colonies of Aleutian Terns, as well as Arctic Terns and up to 200 other bird species that nest in, or migrate through the area. The festival is family friendly and offers activities for birders as well as non-birders, including field trips, seminars, kid’s activities, evening banquets, bird banding demonstration, and other programs.


Other area activities include sight-seeing, hiking, fishing, surfing, canoeing and kayaking, wildlife viewing, and beach-combing. 




our sponsors

Yakutat Tlingit Tribe

Yakutat Chamber of Commerce






Aleutian Tern

Aleutian Terns are of special interest because we know very little about them and their breeding range is limited to Alaska and Eastern Siberia. They nest on the outer coast of Alaska from Glacier Bay to Barrow. They are by all accounts a rare bird, with a global population estimated at approximately 30,000 individuals.  The breeding population estimate for Alaska is 5,500 birds. 

Aleutian terns have a distinct white triangular patch on their forehead just above the bill. They also have black feet, legs, and bill. Aleutian Terns are similar in size to Arctic Terns, but stouter with a more deeply forked tail. Perhaps the biggest contrast between Aleutian and other tern species is in their call. Instead of a harsh cry, Aleutian Terns emit a musical whistling sound similar to a shore bird.  Aleutian Terns are also much less aggressive in defending their nesting colonies; instead of dive bombing, they will generally hover high over the colony when disturbed by humans.

Besides limited colony counts, very little is known about the breeding ecology of this species, and information on their migration routes and wintering areas is only recently coming to light.    This species is designated as a species of concern by several agencies and conservation organizations, primarily due to suspected population declines throughout their range.  A dedicated group of researchers and managers are collaborating to learn more about this species including population status and trend, risks to the population as a whole, and potential future conservation actions.

Terns are small seabirds related to gulls. In contrast to the languid gull, terns contend for the title of most superb aerialists in the avian realm. Terns are capable of hovering in the air like a hummingbird, flipping over backwards, and then slicing down into the water like a pelican. Although they may scavenge occasionally, terns prefer to hunt small fish which they spot from the air and plunge into the water to catch.

Alaska is just one stop on the long journey for terns, but it is an important one.  Terns come to Alaska to lay their eggs and raise their chicks. They nest on the ground on beaches, gravel bars, and lake shores, laying their eggs in shallow depressions called scrapes. The eggs are camouflaged to look like little rocks and are hard to see.

Terns breed in several areas around Yakutat, primarily in mixed Arctic and Aleutian Tern colonies, including the largest known colonies on Black Sand Spit and near the Italio river. The Aleutian tern colony on Black Sand Spit on the Yakutat Forelands is one of the largest in the world, historically supporting up to 3,000 Aleutian Terns; current population estimates are less than 1,000, but continue to represent a significant portion of the global population.  Aleutian terns were documented on the Spit as far back as 1923, and the colony appears to be stable despite apparent declining populations elsewhere within Alaska.  In part because of the large population of Aleutian Terns found there, Black Sand Spit is identified an Audubon Important Bird Area.

Getting around in Yakutat




Lost Coast Adventures offering $10/day/bike for Tern Fest bike rentals.

(price does not include tax)




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