Populations, productivity, and feeding habits of seabirds at Cape Thompson, Alaska: Final report

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Investigations of seabird population sizes and breeding biology were conducted at Cape Thompson from 1959 to 1961 during pre-development studies associated with the Atomic through 1982, the Alaskan Program (OCSEAP) supported determine whether changes Energy Commission’s “Project Chariot.” From 1976 Outer Continental Shelf Environmental Assessment efforts to recensus seabirds at Cape Thompson and had occurred since the 1959-61 period. Prior to the present study, it had been 6 years since the last efforts to census seabird colonies in this area.

We established a field camp at the and occupied it continuously until 31 were selected for cliff nesting species comprising the Cape Thompson complex, mouth of Ikijaktusak Creek on 2 July August 1988. Permanent study plots in four of the five discrete colonies and regular observations were made throughout the study to document attendance patterns, breeding phenology, and success of murres and kittiwakes. Periodic collections of adults offshore were used to determine the food habits of study species. Shore-based work was supplemented with offshore studies of seabird foraging from the USFWS vessel Eagle-Tiglax, 24-31 August (Fig. 2).

Correlation analysis revealed negative trends in murre attendance at all Cape Thompson colonies between 1960 and 1982 or 1988, significantly so for 3 of the 5 colonies. Based on apparent changes in species composition within the colonies, Common Murres declined at a more rapid rate than Thick-billed Murres between 1960 and 1988. Combining information from all colonies, it appears that murre populations have been relatively stable since about 1979. In contrast to murres, the kittiwake population showed no significant trends between 1960 and 1982 or between 1960 and 1988. All fluctuations in kittiwake numbers documented between years were within the variability expected within years. Breeding productivity of murres was about average during 1988 (0.47 young/pair), whereas the productivity of kittiwakes was very poor (0.15 young/pair).

Murres and kittiwakes fed mostly on arctic cod and sand lance distributed widely but in low concentrations (e.g., 0.1-10 g/m3) UP to 1.20 km north and northwest of Cape Thompson. In the total area surveyed (225 km2), only two major feeding aggregations were observed where fish school densities exceeded 15 g/ins. Forage fish densities were higher in shallow Alaska Coastal Current waters than offshore in Bering Sea waters, and piscivorous seabirds like murres and kittiwakes fed mostly in coastal waters. Reduced numbers of fish in murre and kittiwake stomachs in August and low breeding success of kittiwakes suggested that forage fish densities observed around Cape Thompson in late August were sufficient to sustain murres but were insufficient for, or inaccessible to, kittiwakes.

The breeding failure of Black-legged Kittiwakes at Cape Thompson in 1988 was part throughout causes of kittiwakes of a pervasive syndrome of failure in this species observed the Bering/Chukchi seas and Gulf of Alaska in recent years. The recurrent widespread breeding failure need to be identified if are to have a role in area-wide population monitoring during the period of Alaskan OCS development by the oil and gas industry.

The system of land-based plots established in 1988 is recommended for future population monitoring of cliff-nesting birds at Cape Thompson. Based on the coefficients of variation among counts observed in this study, it is estimated that 10 replicate counts per year would detect an 8% change in numbers of Thick-billed Murres between years and a 12% change in Common Murres, with 75% certainty of statistical significance at the 0.05 level. Similarly, a 9% annual change in the population of Black-legged Kittiwakes should be detectable at the 0.05 significance level given samples of 10 replicate counts of the land-based plots.

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Publication type Report
Publication Subtype Federal Government Series
Title Populations, productivity, and feeding habits of seabirds at Cape Thompson, Alaska: Final report
Year Published 1989
Language English
Publisher U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Alaska Fish and Wildlife Research Center
Publisher location Anchorage, AK
Contributing office(s) Alaska Science Center
Description xxi, 429 p.
Country United States
State Alaska
Other Geospatial Cape Thompson
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