Atlantic Puf­fin Geolo­ca­tor and Mon­i­tor­ing Project — 2013 to 2016

Sta­tus:  Data are being analyzed

His­tory, objec­tives, and pre­vi­ous results of study:  The Thule area is the north­ern extent of the Atlantic Puffin’s breed­ing range along the west coast of Green­land.  In this area a num­ber of colonies are known; how­ever, many are extremely small with only 5–10 indi­vid­u­als, and the largest colonies are on Hak­luyt Island, the Witch’s Tit, and in the Carey Islands (up to sev­eral hun­dred birds at the largest colony — Carey Islands).  Out­side of spo­radic colony counts made by vis­i­tors to these colonies no infor­ma­tion is avail­able, and whether these colonies are increas­ing, decreas­ing, or sta­ble in size is unknown.  Addi­tion­ally, the tim­ing of migra­tion and win­ter­ing loca­tions of Atlantic Puffins nest­ing in the Thule area is unknown.  The only pre­vi­ous research on Atlantic Puf­fin migra­tion is from a colony in the United King­dom, from which adult puffins showed no appar­ent dis­cern­able migra­tory pat­tern and indi­vid­u­als win­tered around Ice­land, south­ern Green­land, the Mediter­ranean Sea, and through­out the north­east Atlantic.

In the Thule area from the mid-1990s onward we have col­lected spo­radic infor­ma­tion on the Atlantic Puf­fin colony on the Witch’s Tit.  This includes count­ing the num­ber of adults observed dur­ing vis­its in addi­tion to cap­tur­ing, sam­pling, and ring­ing a lim­ited num­ber of indi­vid­u­als each year.  Begin­ning in 2013 we began a more large scale mon­i­tor­ing project at this colony, with the pri­mary objec­tives being (1) to annu­ally cen­sus the colony and cap­ture, band, and sam­ple as many indi­vid­u­als as pos­si­ble, and (2) use geolo­ca­tors to deter­mine where puffins from this colony win­ter.  Results from this study will pro­vide infor­ma­tion on areas used by win­ter­ing Atlantic Puffins from north­west Green­land and help to deter­mine the cur­rent sta­tus of Atlantic Puffins in the Thule area.  A total of 29 geolo­ca­tors were deployed on adult Atlantic Puffins on the Witch’s Tit dur­ing the 2013 (14) and 2014 (15) field seasons.

In 2014, two geolo­ca­tors were recov­ered which pro­vided an entire year of data for one indi­vid­ual and 150 days of data for the sec­ond.  For the sin­gle indi­vid­ual that data were recov­ered from for the entire migra­tory period, the puf­fin trav­eled up and down the west coast of Green­land dur­ing migra­tion but spent the vast major­ity of the win­ter in the mid­dle of the North Atlantic, over 1,000 km from the near­est land.  This is an area few other seabirds have been shown to uti­lize, and that pre­vi­ously had not been iden­ti­fied as a win­ter use area for Atlantic Puffins.  In 2015 an addi­tional nine geolo­ca­tors were recov­ered, three which were deployed in 2013 and six from 2015.  Dur­ing the 2016 field sea­son while mul­ti­ple indi­vid­u­als were observed with geolo­ca­tors, we were unable to recap­ture any of these individuals.

Objec­tives for 2017:  We have now begun analy­ses of data from the 11 geolo­ca­tors that have been recov­ered.  Cur­rently an Augus­tana Col­lege senior is map­ping out the loca­tions as part of her Senior Project.  In 2017 our pri­mary focus will be the analy­sis and pub­li­ca­tion of the results and mon­i­tor­ing of the colony.  No addi­tional geolo­ca­tors will be deployed and it is highly unlikely any addi­tional attempts will be made to recover any fur­ther units.

 Atlantic Puffin download Atlantic Puffin head
Down­load­ing data from a geolocator. Atlantic Puf­fin.

Lap­land Longspur Geolo­ca­tor Study — 2013 to 2015

Sta­tus:  Data have been ana­lyzed, attempt­ing to pub­lish results from lone individual.

His­tory, objec­tives, and pre­vi­ous results of study:  Although Lap­land Longspurs are rel­a­tively com­mon and likely increas­ing in num­ber in north­west Green­land, lit­tle to no infor­ma­tion is avail­able other than anec­do­tal obser­va­tions.  At Thule Air Base, start­ing in 2010, we began a band­ing pro­gram to try and deter­mine annual adult turnover in addi­tion to col­lect­ing DNA, sta­ble iso­tope, and pol­lu­tant sam­ples from most indi­vid­u­als cap­tured.  To date we have banded over 90 indi­vid­u­als, approx­i­mately two-thirds of which have been juve­niles.  While we have had no band recov­er­ies from juve­niles, over 50% of adult males have been re-captured the fol­low­ing year.  Where indi­vid­u­als from north­west Green­land win­ter is cur­rently unknown, although based on ring recov­er­ies from west Green­land it is pre­dicted that the pri­mary win­ter­ing area will be in the plains area of south­ern Canada and the north­ern USA.  

High­lights of Research:  Dur­ing 2013 and 2014 16 adult male longspurs were tagged with geolo­ca­tors in order to deter­mine where this extreme north­ern pop­u­la­tions win­ters.  In 2014, a sin­gle adult male was re-captured from 2013 and the data from the geolo­ca­tor was suc­cess­fully down­loaded.  No addi­tional re-captures of indi­vid­u­als tagged with geolo­ca­tors occurred.

August = green, Sep­tem­ber = light blue, Octo­ber = blue, Novem­ber = dark blue, Decem­ber = white, Jan­u­ary = orange, Feb­ru­ary = light orange, March = dark orange, April = pink, May = red

Red-necked Phalarope Geolo­ca­tor Project — 2013 to 2014

Sta­tus:  No geolo­ca­tor units recov­ered, pop­u­la­tion being monitored.

His­tory, objec­tives, and pre­vi­ous results of study:  Shore­bird pop­u­la­tions through­out North Amer­ica appear to have declined over the past sev­eral decades.  These declines have been doc­u­mented in both the num­ber of birds observed dur­ing migra­tion and on breed­ing ranges in tem­per­ate, sub-Arctic, and Arc­tic areas.  The Red-necked Phalarope breeds in the cir­cum­po­lar sub-and-low Arc­tic while migrat­ing to more south­ern pelagic areas dur­ing win­ter months.  Start­ing in the mid-1980s the num­ber of migrants observed began to severely decline in the North Atlantic.  It is not known if this decline is a result of an over­all reduc­tion in the total pop­u­la­tion, a shift in breed­ing dis­tri­b­u­tion, or a change in migra­tory route.  Within Green­land, Red-necked Phalarope are gen­er­ally con­sid­ered com­mon breed­ers in south­ern areas and vagrants and very scare breed­ers in the north.  In 2009, while con­duct­ing sur­veys for nest­ing water­fowl in north­west Green­land, K. Burn­ham dis­cov­ered a pre­vi­ously unknown pop­u­la­tion of nest­ing Red-necked Phalarope in the Booth Sound area (76.91°N, 70.73°W).  Based on his­toric infor­ma­tion from Finn Salomon­sen for this area, it is likely that this is a rel­a­tively new and likely increas­ing pop­u­la­tion.  It is unknown where this Green­land breed­ing pop­u­la­tion win­ters. Cur­rent known win­ter­ing areas for other Red-necked Phalarope pop­u­la­tions include the Ara­bian Sea, East Indies, south­ern Philip­pines, north­ern New Guinea, and the Hum­boldt Cur­rent off of Peru.  While on win­ter grounds they spend their entire time at sea, fre­quently con­gre­gat­ing at areas where plank­ton are con­cen­trated and lifted to the sur­face (e.g., upwellings, ther­mal gra­di­ents, etc.), with approx­i­mately 2 mil­lion indi­vid­u­als observed dur­ing migra­tion at an upwelling near Mount Desert Rock off of Maine (USA).  In the Atlantic, large win­ter­ing areas have yet to be dis­cov­ered, and birds nest­ing in the North Atlantic (e.g., Labrador, Green­land) may well win­ter at a yet to be dis­cov­ered loca­tion in the south Atlantic, cross North Amer­ica to the Pacific, or travel to south­ern Europe or Africa.

To deter­mine the win­ter­ing loca­tion of Red-necked Phalarope that breed in the Thule area, dur­ing the 2013 and 2014 field sea­sons we tagged a total of 14 breed­ing adults in the Booth Sound area with geolo­ca­tors.  Based on broader sur­veys of the Booth Sound area from 2010-12, our tag­ging focused along an approx­i­mately 1.5 km long by 0.5 km wide stream/wetland area where over 95% of our total obser­va­tions occurred.  Aside from those indi­vid­u­als tagged with geolo­ca­tors, an addi­tional 10 and 15 addi­tional adults were observed in 2013 and in 2014, a fur­ther six adults were tagged with solely color bands.  It was our inten­tion that these addi­tional six would serve as con­trol indi­vid­u­als, to bet­ter help us deter­mine what affect, if any, the geolo­ca­tors were hav­ing on sur­vival.  Dur­ing the 2016 field sea­son the wet­land area was re-surveyed and no tagged indi­vid­u­als were observed.

 Red-necked Phalarope head  

Red-necked Phalarope

Red-necked Phalarope. Red-necked Phalarope about to be released.

Black-legged Kit­ti­wake Geolo­ca­tor Project — 2011 to 2014

Sta­tus:  Data are being analyzed

His­tory, objec­tives, and pre­vi­ous results of study:  In 2011, 35 Black-legged Kit­ti­wakes were tagged in the Thule area with geolo­ca­tors (see above sec­tion for what geolo­ca­tors are) to deter­mine the tim­ing and route of migra­tion along with win­ter­ing areas.  Pre­vi­ous research (Fred­erik­sen et al. 2011) from north­west Atlantic kit­ti­wake colonies to the south of Thule, and from Euro­pean colonies, has shown the region in the West Atlantic between­New­found­land and the Mid-Atlantic Ridge to have the largest con­cen­tra­tion of win­ter­ing Black-legged Kit­ti­wakes.  While kit­ti­wakes from Thule may very well win­ter in this same gen­eral region, the Thule pop­u­la­tion is at the extreme north­ern range for this species, with data on tim­ing of migra­tion and win­ter­ing areas for this large pop­u­la­tion unknown.

High­lights of Research:  Placed 35 geolo­ca­tors on adult Black-legged Kit­ti­wakes on Saun­ders Island in the Thule area in 2011.  In 2012, 17 indi­vid­u­als were re-captured, in 2013, ?? indi­vid­u­als were re-captured, and in 2014 ?? indi­vid­u­als were re-captured.  Data are cur­rently being ana­lyzed.  See the HAI Face­book page for a map show­ing pre­lim­i­nary results.

Sam­pling and plac­ing a geolo­ca­tor on an adult Black-legged Kit­ti­wake. Hard hats are nec­es­sary as many rocks are kicked off the cliff above by the many tens-of-thousands of nest­ing sea birds. A pair of Black-legged Kit­ti­wakes on their nest.

Arc­tic Tern Geolo­ca­tor Project — 2010 to 2013

Sta­tus:  Data have been ana­lyzed, attempt­ing to pub­lish results from sin­gle individual.

His­tory, objec­tives, and pre­vi­ous results of study:  Research by Egevang et al. (2010) doc­u­mented Arc­tic Terns nest­ing on Sand Island (74.75° N), east Green­land, to have the longest migra­tion of any species on Earth.  Some adults from east Green­land trav­eled over 80,000 kilo­me­ters each year, over win­ter­ing in Antarc­tica.  In 2010, High Arc­tic Insti­tute sci­en­tists ini­ti­ated a sim­i­lar study in the Thule area, tag­ging 23 adult Arc­tic Terns with geolo­ca­tors to doc­u­ment their year-round migra­tion.  Geolo­ca­tors are small 1–2 gram units that have an inter­nal clock and light sen­sor which mea­sure when the sun sets and rises.  Using this infor­ma­tion, two loca­tions can be cal­cu­lated for each indi­vid­ual day; how­ever, loca­tions can not be cal­cu­lated when tagged birds are in areas with con­tin­u­ous 24hr sun­light or dark­ness.  Terns in Thule were tagged at a colony at approx­i­mately 76.9° N.  In 2011, 2012, and 2013 researchers returned to the colony to attempt to re-capture tagged indi­vid­u­als and remove the geolo­ca­tors.  How­ever, in 2011 due to the late depar­ture of sea ice, an ice-bridge remained between the island and main­land for a period of time, allow­ing Arc­tic Foxes access to the island.  Almost all nests on the island were destroyed or pre­dated, with only three tern nests (that nested very late in the year, after the ice-bridge and fox were gone) found in 2011.  Of the adults at the three nests in 2011, one was tagged with a geolo­ca­tor.  This indi­vid­ual was cap­tured and the geolo­ca­tor removed.  No repro­duc­tion occurred in 2012 and 2013 and no indi­vid­u­als were observed with geolocators.

High­lights of Research:  Placed 23 geolo­ca­tors on adult Arc­tic Terns in 2010.  Data from a sin­gle adult re-captured in 2011 showed it fol­lowed air cur­rents both dur­ing out­ward and return migra­tion, sim­i­lar to results obtained by Egevang et al. (2010) for east Greenland.

A geolo­ca­tor is first attached to a band with a wire tie and then the band is put on the Arc­tic Tern. Adult Arc­tic Tern with geolocator.

Thule Area Nest­ing Com­mon Eider Sur­vey — 2009

Sta­tus:  Results Published

Abstract from Burn­ham et al. 2012

ABSTRACT: Com­mon eider (Soma­te­ria mol­lis­sima) pop­u­la­tions in Green­land severely declined through­out the 20th cen­tury. As a result, in 2001, har­vest reg­u­la­tions were changed and the length of the hunt­ing sea­son was reduced. Recent data sug­gest that these changes have been suc­cess­ful, and pop­u­la­tion regrowth is occur­ring. In the Avan­er­suaq Dis­trict, north­west Green­land, only one sys­tem­atic sur­vey quan­ti­fy­ing the num­ber of nest­ing eiders had pre­vi­ously been con­ducted, in 1997 and 1998. Although this dis­trict had his­tor­i­cally been iden­ti­fied as hav­ing the largest num­ber of breed­ing eiders in Green­land, the 1997 – 98 sur­vey results showed a rel­a­tively small esti­mated pop­u­la­tion of 5000 pairs. How­ever, it is not known to what extent changes in hunt­ing reg­u­la­tions have affected nest­ing abun­dance in this area. There­fore, the Avan­er­suaq Dis­trict was sys­tem– ati­cally resur­veyed dur­ing the 2009 breed­ing sea­son, approx­i­mately 11 years after the pre­vi­ous sur­vey. These results showed that the pop­u­la­tion had increased to 5.4 times its 1997 – 98 size, with an annual com­pounded growth rate of 15.3%. On a sin­gle island, nearly 4500 active nests were observed. Five islands had more than 2600 nests each and com­prised 75% of the total nests counted. Along with his­tor­i­cal infor­ma­tion to account for addi­tional nest­ing habi­tat not sur­veyed, the observed pop­u­la­tion growth rate from this study sug­gests that the over­all Avan­er­suaq com­mon eider breed­ing pop­u­la­tion size ranges from 25 000 to 30 000 pairs, or roughly half of the total esti­mated West Green­land breed­ing pop­u­la­tion. Despite the sig­nif­i­cance of the Avan­er­suaq Dis­trict as a breed­ing area for com­mon eiders, we have only lim­ited infor­ma­tion about this pop­u­la­tion. The effects of recent exten­sions of the hunt­ing sea­son on this
pop­u­la­tion are also unknown, and the only win­ter­ing loca­tion infor­ma­tion is based on a few indi­vid­u­als banded in the 1920s and 1940s. Addi­tional research on migra­tory move­ments is sug­gested before any fur­ther changes are made to hunt­ing regulations.

Thule Area Water­fowl Sur­veys — 2008 to 2009

Sta­tus:  Results Published

Abstract from Burn­ham et al. 2014

ABSTRACT:  Breed­ing pop­u­la­tions of Nearc­tic and Palearc­tic water­fowl have under­gone sig­nif­i­cant changes in abun­dance and dis­tri­b­u­tion over the past 50 years. The Avan­er­suaq Dis­trict in north­west Green­land is home to an assem­blage of water­fowl from both geo­graphic areas; how­ever, min­i­mal his­toric or cur­rent infor­ma­tion is avail– able on species abun­dance. In 2008 and 2009, we con­ducted field sur­veys in Green­land from 76.00° to 77.35°N for breed­ing and non-breeding water­fowl and have col­lected anec­do­tal field notes of avian obser­va­tions over a 20-year period (1993–2012). Dur­ing these peri­ods, we doc­u­mented the first obser­va­tion of a Ross’s goose (Chen rossii) and the first con­firmed breed­ing by lesser snow geese (Chen caerulescens caerulescens) in Green­land.
North­ern pin­tails (Anas acuta) were observed for the first time in north­west Green­land, and a pre­vi­ously unknown breed­ing loca­tion for brent geese (Branta ber­ni­cla hrota) was also iden­ti­fied. Local pop­u­la­tions of greater snow (C. c.) and Canada geese (B. canaden­sis) have increased in size. The Booth Sound and Drown Bay wet­land areas and many islands through­out the Avan­er­suaq Dis­trict were iden­ti­fied as crit­i­cal habi­tat for both breed­ing and non-breeding water­fowl. Fur­ther increases in water­fowl abun­dance, includ­ing more fre­quent rare and new vis­i­tors, are likely in the study area as breed­ing pop­u­la­tions fur­ther south con­tinue to increase and an ame­lio­rat­ing cli­mate allows for a longer breed­ing sea­son. These results will prove use­ful as a base­line for com­par­isons with future surveys.

Carey Island Bird Sur­vey — 2008

Sta­tus:  Results Published

Abstract from Burn­ham & Burn­ham 2010                        

ABSTRACT: The Carey Islands of north­west Green­land are infre­quently vis­ited by ornitho­log­i­cal researchers, and base­line pop­u­la­tion data for many avian species is lim­ited or absent. This paper high­lights the results of a three-day expe­di­tion to cir­cum­nav­i­gate the largest islands and islets of the Carey Island group to doc­u­ment the pop­u­la­tion and breed­ing sta­tus of all avian species. Six­teen species were observed, with ten doc­u­mented breed­ing. Of par­tic­u­lar inter­est to the avian record of the region is the first doc­u­mented obser­va­tion of White-fronted Geese on the Carey Islands and the large num­ber of breed­ing of Brant Geese.

Gyr­fal­con Plumage Color Study — 1998 to 2006

Sta­tus:  Results Published

Abstract from John­son & Burn­ham 2013

ABSTRACT:  Plumage colour vari­a­tion exists among Gyr­fal­cons through­out their Arc­tic and sub-Arctic cir­cum­po­lar dis­tri­b­u­tion, rang­ing from white through sil­ver and grey to almost black. Although dif­fer­ent colour vari­ants coex­ist within many pop­u­la­tions, a few geo­graph­i­cal regions, such as north­ern Green­land, pos­sess a sin­gle vari­ant, sug­gest­ing that local envi­ron­ments may influence plumage colour vari­a­tion. In central-west Green­land (66.5–67.5°N), where mul­ti­ple colour vari­ants exist, white male Gyr­fal­cons fathered significantly ear­lier clutches than grey males. No significant asso­ci­a­tion was observed between female colour and lay date. How­ever, significantly more off­spring were pro­duced by both male and female white Gyr­fal­cons than by grey vari­ants when con­trol­ling for lay date, and sil­ver Gyr­fal­cons pro­duced an inter­me­di­ate num­ber of off­spring for both sexes. This pat­tern was
fur­ther sup­ported by breed­ing plumage colour pair­ings. Grey females paired with grey males nested significantly later in the sea­son and pro­duced fewer off­spring than those paired with white males, whereas no dif­fer­ence in lay date or off­spring num­ber was found between white males paired with white or with grey females. The dif­fer­ence in the num­ber of off­spring pro­duced at each nest-site was also inversely cor­re­lated with the dis­tance to the near­est neigh­bour­ing nest, and grey males nested in closer prox­im­ity to other nests com­pared with white and sil­ver colour vari­ants. These results sug­gest that fac­tors asso­ci­ated with ter­ri­tory occu­pancy and tim­ing of breed­ing may reg­u­late repro­duc­tive suc­cess dif­fer­ently between colour vari­ants, with direc­tional selec­tion favour­ing
light-coloured Gyr­fal­cons and result­ing in ear­lier lay date and a high fre­quency of white plumage colour vari­ants in this pop­u­la­tion. Although gene flow exists between our study pop­u­la­tion and those fur­ther north (>75°N), white Gyr­fal­cons pre­vail where the breed­ing sea­son dura­tion is even shorter, sug­gest­ing that nest­ing chronol­ogy in com­bi­na­tion with genetic drift may play an impor­tant role in influencing plumage colour poly­mor­phism among Gyr­fal­con populations.

Thule Area Pere­grine Fal­con Study — from 1993 to 2005

Sta­tus:  Results Published

Abstract from Burn­ham et al. 2012

ABSTRACT:  Pere­grine Fal­cons, Falco pere­gri­nus tun­drius, were his­tor­i­cally unknown to Inuit and early explor­ers in the Pituffik (Thule) area, north­west Green­land (75.90–77.60° N). Here we pro­vide infor­ma­tion col­lected from 1993–2005 on what we believe is a recently estab­lished and expand­ing pop­u­la­tion of High Arc­tic nest­ing Pere­grines in the area asso­ci­ated with cli­mate change. From 1979 to 2005, the aver­age of the mean monthly tem­per­a­ture, min­i­mum monthly tem­per­a­ture, and max­i­mum monthly tem­per­a­ture for the five-month period, May through Sep­tem­ber, increased 1.1, 0.5, and 1.6 °c, respec­tively. Forty-one breed­ing attempts were recorded at six sites from 1993 to 2005 for this new pop­u­la­tion. satel­lite trans­mit­ters were used to deter­mine the home ranges and sea­sonal move­ments of female Pere­grines, with adults trav­el­ing an aver­age of 10,794 km at a rate of 205 km/ day on out­ward migra­tion. Dur­ing out­ward migra­tion, the max­i­mum dis­tance trav­eled by any female on one day was 1,349 km with the max­i­mum total out­ward and return migra­tions for sin­gle indi­vid­u­als 12,438 and 11,071 km, respec­tively, to and from south Amer­ica.
Com­par­isons with Pere­grine pop­u­la­tions in Green­land at 67° N and 60.5° N, approx­i­mately 1,100 (Kanger­lus­suaq) and 1,700 (south Green­land) km south of the Pituffik area, respec­tively, show dif­fer­ences in var­i­ous aspects of ecol­ogy. Based on a lack of both mor­pho­log­i­cal and genetic dif­fer­ences it appears the Pituffik area pop­u­la­tion is likely a result of the exten­sion of more south­ern breed­ing Pere­grines mov­ing north and tak­ing advan­tage of an ame­lio­rat­ing cli­mate and length­ened breed­ing win­dow. Should cli­matic ame­lio­ra­tion con­tinue, the species may even­tu­ally expand its range into the very north­ern­most land area, Peary Land.

Car­bon Dat­ing of Gyr­fal­con Nests in Green­land — 2002 to 2004

Sta­tus:  Results Published

Abstract from Burn­ham et al. 2009

ABSTRACT:  Gyr­fal­cons Falco rus­ti­co­lus use the same nest-sites over long peri­ods of time, and in the cold dry cli­mate of Green­land, guano and other nest debris decay slowly. Nine­teen guano sam­ples and three feath­ers were col­lected from 13 Gyr­fal­con nests with strat­i­fied fae­cal accu­mu­la­tion in central-west and north­west Green­land. Sam­ples were 14C dated, with the old­est guano sam­ple
dat­ing to c. 2740–2360 cal­en­dar years (cal yr) before present (BP) and three oth­ers were prob­a­bly > 1000 cal yr BP. Feather sam­ples ranged from 670 to 60 cal yr BP. Although the esti­mated age of mate­r­ial was cor­re­lated with sam­ple depth, both sam­ple depth and guano thick­ness gave a much less reli­able pre­dic­tion of sam­ple age than use of radio­car­bon dat­ing on which the mar­gin of error was less. Older sam­ples were obtained from sites far­ther from the cur­rent Green­land Ice Sheet and at higher ele­va­tions, while younger sam­ples were closer to the cur­rent ice sheet and at lower ele­va­tions. Val­ues for d13C showed that Gyr­fal­cons nest­ing far­ther from the Green­land Ice Sheet had a more marine diet, whereas those nest­ing closer to the ice sheet (= fur­ther inland) fed on a more ter­res­trial diet. The dura­tion of nest-site use by Gyr­fal­cons is a prob­a­ble indi­ca­tor of both the time at which col­o­niza­tion occurred and the palaeoen­vi­ron­men­tal con­di­tions and pat­terns of glacial retreat. Nowhere before has such extreme long-term to present use of rap­tor nest-sites been documented.

Genetic Struc­ture Among Cir­cum­po­lar Gyr­fal­con Pop­u­la­tions — 2001 to 2004

Sta­tus:  Results Published

Abstract from John­son et al. 2007

ABSTRACT:  Lit­tle is known about the pos­si­ble influ­ence that past glacial events have had on the phy­lo­geog­ra­phy and pop­u­la­tion struc­ture of avian preda­tors in the Arc­tic and sub-Arctic. In this study, we use microsatel­lite and mito­chon­dr­ial con­trol region DNA vari­a­tion to inves­ti­gate the pop­u­la­tion genetic struc­ture of gyr­fal­cons (Falco rus­ti­co­lus) through­out a large por­tion of their cir­cum­po­lar dis­tri­b­u­tion. In most loca­tions sam­pled, the mtDNA data revealed lit­tle geo­graphic struc­ture; how­ever, five out of eight mtDNA hap­lo­types were unique to a par­tic­u­lar geo­graphic area (Green­land, Ice­land, or Alaska) and the Ice­land pop­u­la­tion dif­fered from oth­ers based on hap­lo­type fre­quency dif­fer­ences (FST). With the microsatel­lite results, sig­nif­i­cant pop­u­la­tion struc­ture (FST, prin­ci­pal com­po­nents analy­sis, and clus­ter analy­sis) was observed iden­ti­fy­ing Green­land and Ice­land as sep­a­rate pop­u­la­tions, while Nor­way, Alaska and Canada were iden­ti­fied as a sin­gle pop­u­la­tion con­sis­tent with con­tem­po­rary gene flow across Rus­sia. Within Green­land, dif­fer­ing lev­els of gene flow between west­ern and east­ern sam­pling loca­tions was indi­cated with appar­ent asym­met­ric dis­per­sal in west­ern Green­land from north to south. This dis­per­sal bias is in agree­ment with the dis­tri­b­u­tion of plumage colour vari­ants with white gyr­fal­cons in much higher pro­por­tion in north­ern Green­land. Lastly, because the mtDNA con­trol region sequence dif­fered by only one to four nucleotides from a com­mon hap­lo­type among all gyr­fal­cons, we infer that the observed microsatel­lite pop­u­la­tion genetic struc­ture has devel­oped since the last glacial max­i­mum. This con­clu­sion is fur­ther sup­ported by our find­ing that a closely related species, the saker fal­con (Falco cher­rug), has greater genetic het­ero­gene­ity, includ­ing mtDNA hap­lo­types dif­fer­ing by 1–16 nucleotide sub­sti­tu­tions from a com­mon gyr­fal­con hap­lo­type. This is con­sis­tent with gyr­fal­cons hav­ing expanded rapidly from a sin­gle glacial-age refu– gium to their cur­rent cir­cum­po­lar dis­tri­b­u­tion. Addi­tional sam­pling of gyr­fal­cons from Fennoscan­dia and Rus­sia through­out Siberia is nec­es­sary to test puta­tive gene flow between Nor­way and Alaska and Canada as sug­gested by this study.

The Genet­ics of Plumage Color in Gyr­fal­cons — 2001 to 2004

Sta­tus:  Results Published

Abstract from John­son et al. 2012

ABSTRACT:  Genetic vari­a­tion at the melanocortin-1 recep­tor (MC1R) gene is cor­re­lated with melanin color vari­a­tion in a few reported ver­te­brates. In Gyr­fal­con (Falco rus­ti­co­lus), plumage color vari­a­tion exists through­out their arc­tic and sub­arc­tic cir­cum­po­lar dis­tri­b­u­tion, from white to gray and almost black. Mul­ti­ple color vari­ants do exist within the major­ity of pop­u­la­tions; how­ever, a few areas (e.g., north­ern Green­land and Ice­land) pos­sess a sin­gle color vari­ant. Here, we show that the white/ melanic color
pat­tern observed in Gyr­fal­cons is explained by allelic vari­a­tion at MC1R. Six nucleotide sub­sti­tu­tions in MC1R resulted in 9 alle­les that dif­fered in geo­graphic fre­quency with at least 2 MC1R alle­les observed in almost all sam­pled pop­u­la­tions in Green­land, Ice­land, Canada, and Alaska. In north Green­land, where white Gyr­fal­cons pre­dom­i­nate, a sin­gle MC1R allele was observed at high
fre­quency (.98%), whereas in Ice­land, where only gray Gyr­fal­cons are known to breed, 7 alle­les were observed. Of the 6 nucleotide sub­sti­tu­tions, 3 resulted in amino acid sub­sti­tu­tions, one of which (Val128Ile) was per­fectly asso­ci­ated with the white/melanic poly­mor­phism. Fur­ther­more, the degree of melanism was cor­re­lated with num­ber of MC1R vari­ant alle­les, with sil­ver Gyr­fal­cons
all het­erozy­gous and the major­ity of dark gray indi­vid­u­als homozy­gous (Ile128 ). These results pro­vide strong sup­port that MC1R is asso­ci­ated with plumage color in this species.

Genetic Com­par­i­son of North Amer­i­can Arc­tic Pere­grine Pop­u­la­tions — 2001 to 2004

Sta­tus:  Results Published

Abstract from John­son et al. 2010


Back­ground: Our abil­ity to mon­i­tor pop­u­la­tions or species that were once threat­ened or endan­gered and in the process of recov­ery is enhanced by using genetic meth­ods to assess over­all pop­u­la­tion sta­bil­ity and size over time. This can be
accom­plished most directly by obtain­ing genetic mea­sures from temporally-spaced sam­ples that reflect the over­all sta­bil­ity of the pop­u­la­tion as given by changes in genetic diver­sity lev­els (allelic rich­ness and het­erozy­gos­ity), degree of pop­u­la­tion dif­fer­en­ti­a­tion (FST and DEST), and effec­tive pop­u­la­tion size (Ne). The pri­mary goal of any recov­ery effort is to pro­duce a longterm self-sustaining pop­u­la­tion, and these genetic mea­sures pro­vide a met­ric by which we can gauge our progress and help make impor­tant man­age­ment deci­sions.
Methodology/Principal Find­ings: The pere­grine fal­con in North Amer­ica (Falco pere­gri­nus tun­drius and ana­tum) was delisted in 1994 and 1999, respec­tively, and its abun­dance will be mon­i­tored by the species Recov­ery Team every three years until 2015. Although the United States Fish and Wildlife Ser­vice makes a dis­tinc­tion between tun­drius and ana­tum sub­species, our genetic results based on eleven microsatel­lite loci sug­gest lim­ited dif­fer­en­ti­a­tion that can be attrib­uted to an iso­la­tion by dis­tance rela­tion­ship and war­rant no delin­eation of these two sub­species in its north­ern lat­i­tu­di­nal dis­tri­b­u­tion from Alaska through Canada into Green­land. Using tem­po­ral sam­ples col­lected at Padre Island, Texas dur­ing migra­tion (seven tem­po­ral time peri­ods between 1985–2007), no sig­nif­i­cant dif­fer­ences in genetic diver­sity or sig­nif­i­cant pop­u­la­tion dif­fer­en­ti­a­tion in allele fre­quen­cies between time peri­ods were observed and were indis­tin­guish­able from those obtained from tundrius/anatum breed­ing loca­tions through­out their north­ern dis­tri­b­u­tion. Esti­mates of har­monic mean Ne were vari­able and impre­cise, but always greater than 500 when employ­ing mul­ti­ple tem­po­ral genetic meth­ods.
Conclusions/Significance: These results, includ­ing those from sim­u­la­tions to assess the power of each method to esti­mate
Ne, sug­gest a sta­ble or grow­ing pop­u­la­tion, which is con­sis­tent with ongo­ing field-based mon­i­tor­ing sur­veys. There­fore,
his­toric and con­tin­u­ing efforts to pre­vent the extinc­tion of the pere­grine fal­con in North Amer­ica appear suc­cess­ful with no
indi­ca­tion of recent decline, at least from the north­ern lat­i­tude range-wide per­spec­tive. The results also fur­ther high­light the
impor­tance of archiv­ing sam­ples and their use for con­tin­ual assess­ment of pop­u­la­tion recov­ery and long-term viability.

Migra­tory Move­ments of Gyr­fal­cons in Green­land — 2000 to 2004

Sta­tus:  Results Published

Abstract from Burn­ham & New­ton 2011

ABSTRACT:  Lit­tle infor­ma­tion exists on the move­ments of Gyr­fal­cons Falco rus­ti­co­lus out­side the breed­ing sea­son, par­tic­u­larly amongst High Arc­tic pop­u­la­tions, with almost all cur­rent knowl­edge based on Low Arc­tic pop­u­la­tions. This study is the first to pro­vide data on sum­mer and win­ter ranges and migra­tion dis­tances. We high­light a behav­iour pre­vi­ously unknown in Gyr­fal­cons, in which birds win­ter on sea ice far from land. Dur­ing 2000–2004, data were col­lected from 48 Gyr­fal­cons tagged with satel­lite trans­mit­ters in three parts of Green­land: Thule (north­west), Kanger­lus­suaq (central-west) and Scores­by­sund (central-east). Breed­ing home-range size for seven adult females var­ied from 140 to 1197 km2 and was 489 and 503 km2 for two adult males. Com­plete out­ward migra­tions from breed­ing to win­ter­ing areas were recorded for three indi­vid­u­als: an adult male which trav­elled 3137 km over a 38-day period (83 km ⁄ day) from north­ern Ellesmere Island to south­ern Green­land, an adult female which trav­elled 4234 km from Thule to south­ern Green­land (via east­ern Canada) over an 83-day period (51 km ⁄ day), and an adult female which trav­elled 391 km from Kanger­lus­suaq to south­ern Green­land over a 13-day period (30 km ⁄ day). Sig­nif­i­cant dif­fer­ences were found in win­ter home-range size between Fal­cons tagged on the west coast (383‑6657 km2) and east coast (26 810–63 647 km2). Sev­eral Fal­cons had no obvi­ous win­ter home-ranges and trav­elled con­tin­u­ally dur­ing the non-breeding period, at times spend­ing up to 40 con­sec­u­tive days at sea, pre­sum­ably rest­ing on ice­bergs and feed­ing on seabirds. Dur­ing the win­ter, one juve­nile female trav­elled over 4548 km over an approx­i­mately 200-day period, spend­ing over half that time over the ocean between Green­land and Ice­land. These are some of the largest win­ter home-ranges ever doc­u­mented in rap­tors and pro­vide the first doc­u­men­ta­tion of the long-term use of pelagic habi­tats by any fal­con. In gen­eral, return migra­tions were faster than out­ward ones. This study high­lights the impor­tance of sea ice and fjord regions in south­west Green­land as win­ter habi­tat for Gyr­fal­cons, and pro­vides the first detailed insights into the com­plex and highly vari­able move­ment pat­terns of the species.

Bird Sur­vey of the Uum­man­naq Dis­trict, west Green­land — 2000

Sta­tus:  Results Publsihed

Abstract from Burn­ham et a. 2005

ABSTRACT:  From 1905 to 1920 Alfred Ber­telsen doc­u­mented 210 avian breed­ing sites for 32 species in the Uum­man­naq Dis­trict, Green­land, between 70º03’ and 72º03’ N and 50º20’ and 55º40’ W, a land area of about 12 000 km2. In 2000 we re-surveyed 207 of those sites and the remain­der of the coastal area, pro­vid­ing results for 25 species, our aim being to deter­mine presence/absence and den­sity of coastal nest­ing species. For 10 species reported by Ber­telsen as com­mon and with quan­ti­fied num­bers (breed­ing sites and pop­u­la­tion) at his loca­tions, we found the num­ber of occu­pied sites was the same for one species (North­ern Ful­mar Ful­marus glacialis) while nine oth­ers had declined. Assum­ing some species may have relo­cated breed­ing sites over time and includ­ing all loca­tions where we found those species, when com­pared to Bertelsen’s results, the num­ber of sites remained the same for two species and declined for eight. Com­par­ing the total observed pop­u­la­tion num­bers (birds present) between Bertelsen’s and our 2000 sur­vey, one species remained about the same or slightly increased (North­ern Ful­mar) and nine decreased. The species with the most dra­matic declines were the Thick-billed Murre Uria lomvia (from 8 sites and over 500 000 pairs to zero), Black-legged Kit­ti­wake Rissa tri­dactyla (27 sites and 268 000 birds to 7 sites and c. 1100 birds), Razor­bill Alca torda (17 sites to 3), Com­mon Eider Soma­te­ria mol­lis­sima (26 sites to 16), and Gyr­fal­con Falco rus­ti­co­lus (28 sites to 7). The Great Cor­morant Pha­lacro­co­rax carbo and Great Black-backed Gull Larus mar­i­nus are the only species we could deter­mine with cer­tainty that had increased in num­ber of breed­ing sites (1 to 12 and 0 to 4 sites, respec­tively). Pop­u­la­tion declines appear to be a com­bi­na­tion of human per­se­cu­tion and human-caused reduc­tion in prey and habi­tat qual­ity. Unless fur­ther con­ser­va­tion mea­sures are taken, con­tin­ued avian declines are probable.