Evaluation of breeding distribution and chronology of North American scoters

Wildlife Biology
By: , and 



North America's scoter species are poorly monitored relative to other waterfowl. Black Melanitta americana, surf M. perspicillata, and white-winged M. deglandi scoter abundance and trend estimates are thus uncertain in many parts of these species' ranges. The most extensive source of waterfowl abundance and distribution data in North America is the Waterfowl breeding population and habitat survey (WBPHS). Although the WBPHS effectively monitors most species, both its timing and geographic coverage may preclude accurate scoter monitoring. Therefore, our goal was to better define when and where scoters breed to help interpret survey results and optimize potential supplemental survey efforts for scoters. We integrated satellite telemetry tracking data from scoters marked at multiple molting, staging, breeding, and wintering areas along the Atlantic and Pacific coasts to quantify continent-wide breeding chronology and distribution. We also examined possible drivers of variation in timing of arrival, length of stay, and departure at nesting locations. We documented a northwest to southeast distribution of estimated breeding sites across Alaska and Canada. On average, scoters arrived at nest sites on 1 June. Surf scoters and Pacific black scoters arrived earliest and departed earliest. Pacific-wintering black and white-winged scoters began breeding earlier than Atlantic-wintering birds. Additionally, birds arrived at nesting locations earlier in years with earlier snowmelt, and later snowmelt reduced lengths of stay for males. Breeding chronology also varied by age group, with adults arriving earlier than subadults. Our study is the first to comprehensively describe spatial variation in timing of breeding of both Atlantic and Pacific populations of all three scoter species across North America. Our results increase our understanding of how current surveys enumerate scoters and will inform possible supplemental efforts to improve continental monitoring of scoter populations.

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Publication type Article
Publication Subtype Journal Article
Title Evaluation of breeding distribution and chronology of North American scoters
Series title Wildlife Biology
DOI 10.1002/wlb3.01099
Volume 2023
Year Published 2023
Language English
Publisher Wiley
Contributing office(s) Patuxent Wildlife Research Center, Western Ecological Research Center, Alaska Science Center Ecosystems
Description e01099, 19 p.
Country Canada, United States
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