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Robinson & Anderson: Crested Auklet as a prey item of Gyrfalcon 229
Marine Ornithology 44: 229–231 (2016)
The family Alcidae primarily inhabit coastlines and open ocean,
remaining on saltwater for the majority of their lives. Only a few
species, such as Kittlitz’s Brachyramphus brevirostris and Marbled
B. marmoratus murrelets, breed inland (Nelson 1997, Day et al.
1999). Alcids are highly specialized for a life on the ocean and
rarely make inland movements; such movements are most often
facilitated by mechanisms of vagrancy (Munyer 1965, Sealy &
The Crested Auklet Aethia cristatella is an alcid that breeds on
Bering Sea islands, wintering almost entirely in the Bering Sea and
adjacent North Pacific Ocean (USFWS 2006).
A total of 43 nesting colonies are known, with highest numbers
of breeding birds in the northern Bering Sea and the western
Aleutian Islands (World Seabird Union 2016). Crested Auklets
rarely wander, with relatively low numbers of documented vagrancy
relative to other alcids (Weyman 1980, Sealy & Carter 2012). Inland
movements of Crested Auklet have been reported in the literature
on only three occasions, the most recent report being 64 years ago.
On one occasion, a hatch-year bird wandered inland 130 km and
struck an antenna near Nulato, Alaska, on the Yukon-Kuskokwim
Delta in September 1937 (Geist 1939). On the second occasion,
a dead bird was salvaged on a road about 160 km inland near
Vance, Washington, on 29 June 1937 (Nickelsen 1942). On the
third occasion, four adults were found grounded <2 km inland at
Hooper Bay, Alaska, during a storm in June 1952 (Humphrey &
Here, we document an adult Crested Auklet as a prey item of an
inland-nesting Gyrfalcon. This represents the fourth documented
CRESTED AUKLET AETHIA CRISTATELLA AS A PREY ITEM
IN AN INLAND GYRFALCON FALCO RUSTICOLUS NEST
BRYCE W. ROBINSON1,2 & DAVID L. ANDERSON2
1Raptor Research Center at Boise State University, 1910 University Drive, Boise, ID, USA (email@example.com)
2The Peregrine Fund, 5668 W Flying Hawk Lane, Boise, ID, USA
Received 26 April 2016, accepted 1 July 2016
ROBINSON, B.W. & ANDERSON, D.L. 2016. Crested Auklet Aethia cristatella as a prey item in an inland Gyrfalcon Falco rusticolus nest.
Marine Ornithology 44: 237–239.
We report Crested Auklet Aethia cristatella as a prey item of a Gyrfalcon Falco rusticolus nesting in inland western Alaska. This represents
the first documented case as a Gyrfalcon prey item during the breeding season in North America, and the fourth documented case of inland
movements of Crested Auklet. The presence of the auklet in the Gyrfalcon nest is notable due to the distance (105 km) to the nearest coastline.
Weather likely caused the inland movement of the auklet. Because of the connection between weather events and inland movements of alcids,
and the predicted increase and severity of weather due to climate change, continued reporting of inland movements may serve as a measure
of change and its impacts on seabirds. Continued use of nest cameras to monitor raptor diet during nesting may also serve as a sampling
tool for capturing similar instances of inland movements, and complement the use of eBird for sightings of live birds in understudied areas
to gain a better understanding of the frequency of inland movements in the family Alcidae.
Key words: Alaska, Aethia cristatella, Crested Auklet, Falco rusticolus, Gyrfalcon, inland movement, predation
case of inland movements for this species, as well as the first
documentation of Crested Auklet as a prey item for Gyrfalcon
during the nestling period in North America.
STUDY AREA AND METHODS
The study area consists of 14 150 km2 of the Seward Peninsula,
Alaska, described by Bente (2011). The landscape is Arctic
tundra, dominated by low-lying vegetation in coastal and highland
areas, and by dense willow Salix spp. and alder Alnus spp.
thickets along riparian corridors. Topography consists of rolling
tundra interspersed with mountainous terrain, numerous rock
outcroppings, and cliff-lined river systems. The study area provides
abundant nesting habitat for Gyrfalcons, with an annual mean of
35 (range 31 to 39) occupied breeding territories between 2005
and 2010 (Bente 2011). In summer 2015, we installed Reconyx
PC800 motion-activated cameras at 13 occupied Gyrfalcon nests
to monitor prey deliveries during the nestling period. Motion
activation in the nest cameras was programmed at high sensitivity
to take three rapid photographs, followed by a 15 s sleep period, and
one motion-independent time-lapse photograph recurring every 15
min. All nest-camera photographs were automatically time-stamped
with the local time (Alaska Daylight Time; AKDT). Observations
detailed here focus on an inland nest located 105 km from the
nearest coastline. The nest site is a small stick nest approximately
15 m above a slow-flowing river, surrounded by open grassy tundra
and rolling hills.
RESULTS AND DISCUSSION
On 2 July 2015 at 17h14, a nest camera captured the delivery of a
Crested Auklet to three nestlings 44 d old (Fig. 1). The presence
of the Crested Auklet in the Gyrfalcon nest is peculiar, given the
230 Robinson & Anderson: Crested Auklet as a prey item of Gyrfalcon
Marine Ornithology 44: 229–231 (2016)
distance of the Gyrfalcon nest to the nearest coastline (~105 km),
and the further distance of the nearest auklet breeding colony
(~160 km). Little is known about the hunting range of Gyrfalcon
during nesting, apart from ranges of 15 km and 20 km stated in
the literature (White & Cade 1971, Nielsen 2011). Either distance
negates the possibility of a Gyrfalcon flying 105 km to the ocean to
predate a seabird. It is more likely that the presence of the Crested
Auklet in this Gyrfalcon nest was a result of the inland wandering of
the auklet. However, it is still peculiar that a seabird with a breeding
home range restricted to Bering Sea Islands would wander so far
inland during the height of its breeding cycle.
The closest known location of a Crested Auklet colony is on King
Island, a distance of approximately 160 km from the Gyrfalcon
nest site (World Seabird Union 2016). Additionally, the Gyrfalcon
nest was approximately 105 km from the nearest coastline. To gain
a perspective on Crested Auklet movements in summer 2015, we
investigated all eBird records from the southern Seward Peninsula
during the summer breeding months. We found only one sighting of
three birds at Nome Harbor in June 2015, which is 116 km south-
southwest from the Gyrfalcon nest site and represents the only
coastal sighting for the region in 2015 (eBird 2015). Other regional
coastal eBird records include eight sightings (in 1993, and 2012 to
2013) 105 km southeast of the Gyrfalcon nest site, along the Safety
Sound coastline on the southern coast of the Seward Peninsula.
Alcids have previously been documented in diets of Gyrfalcon during
the breeding season (Nielsen 2003, 2011). Although Gyrfalcon is
listed as a predator of Crested Auklet in the literature for North
America, no accounts are cited, nor are any details provided (Jones
1993). Gyrfalcons are sympatric with Crested Auklet in Alaska
during the nonbreeding season and have been documented hunting
alcids in places of sympatry, such as Buldir Island on the Aleutian
Archipelago (Byrd & Day 1986). However, there is no mention of
Gyrfalcon predation on Crested Auklet during the breeding months
(May to August) in North America, likely because the breeding
ranges of the two species do not overlap. However, in Chukotka,
Russia, directly west of the Seward Peninsula and the Bering Sea,
Crested Auklet have been reported as frequent Gyrfalcon prey items
Weather is generally considered the primary cause of inland
occurrences of alcids and is the most likely explanation of the
occurrence of the Crested Auklet as a prey item in an inland
Gyrfalcon nest (Geist 1939, Sealy & Carter 2004, 2012). We
accessed local weather conditions for the date the Crested Auklet
appeared in the Gyrfalcon nest to investigate whether weather
was the likely cause of the inland movement. Nome weather data
indicated a peak wind speed for 2 July of 33.84 km/h from a
direction of 240° (southwest) for the day of the auklet prey delivery
(Menne et al. 2016). Data also indicated fog and precipitation of
0.5 mm. We also checked nest-camera images from other Gyrfalcon
nests nearest to the coast for 1 July and 2 July to elucidate the coastal
conditions near to the nest of the observation. Nest-camera images
from a nest approximately 23 km from the nearest coastline and 98
km from the nest of the observation indicate wind, precipitation,
and fog for the day before and the day of the Crested Auklet
delivery. Additionally, nest-camera images from the nest nearer to
the coast show an adult female Gyrfalcon brooding nestlings 22 d
old, an uncommon behavior at this stage of nestling development,
which further supports the severity of the weather for these dates.
It has been suggested that seabirds survive storms by staying on
the wing; they are carried through dense fog and rain, which may
disorient them, resulting in accidental inland movements (Geist
1939). Weather—likely a combination of precipitation, fog and
moderate winds—as the proximate cause of disorientation is the
most likely explanation of the inland wandering of this auklet.
The report of this Crested Auklet 105 km inland is notable for
two reasons. First, the observation was documented by camera
monitoring of a Gyrfalcon nest, without which the auklet would
have gone undetected. Continued monitoring of raptor diet during
nesting in this region can provide a tool for capturing inland
movements in an understudied area, allowing further insight
into similar instances of vagrancy. Second, we found only three
previously published records of inland movements by Crested
Auklet: one instance of four birds occurred 2 km inland, and the
other two occurred >100 km inland. Our observation thus represents
only the fourth published record of this species occurring inland, a
peculiar observation for a pelagic bird during the nesting season.
Global predictions include increases in climate variability and
changes in the frequency and strength of severe weather events
(Easterling 2000, Smith 2011, Vose et al. 2014). These predictions
have recently received increased attention because they may
represent some of the most important aspects of global change
impacts on ecosystem structure. Connecting novel weather events
or disturbances in the regular weather regimes with their effects
on bird life is important in fully understanding the impacts of
global change. For alcids, the frequency of inland movements may
serve as one measure of the effects of increased weather events
on population dynamics and stability. The frequency of inland
windblown or disoriented birds may increase with the frequency
and severity of weather events due to climate change. Along with
continued and increased camera monitoring in raptor nests, the use
of resources such as eBird will undoubtedly aid in recording inland
movements of alcids. However, in instances of mortality such as
this report, eBird submission is inappropriate. Therefore, published
documentation is necessary and may facilitate a complete picture of
Fig. 1. Crested Auklet (insert) in a Gyrfalcon nest, as captured by
a motion-activated camera installed to record prey use during the
nestling period, Seward Peninsula, Alaska, 2015. The Gyrfalcon
nest is a stick platform located along a river, 105 km from the
nearest open ocean and 160 km from the nearest known Crested
Auklet breeding colony.
Robinson & Anderson: Crested Auklet as a prey item of Gyrfalcon 231
Marine Ornithology 44: 229–231 (2016)
irregular movements in areas that receive relatively little attention
from birders and field biologists.
We thank the Alaska Department of Fish and Game, including Peter
Bente and Travis Booms, for their support. Thanks to Ellen Whittle
for her help conducting field work and to John Earthman for support
with field logistics. We thank David Ainley and an anonymous
reviewer for helpful comments and suggestions that improved the
manuscript. We also thank the Eppley Foundation for Research for
providing necessary funding for this study.
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