Glaucous Gull
Iñupiaq Name: Nauyyaq
Scientific Name: Larus hyperboreus

Yellow-billed Loon
Iñupiaq Name: Tuullik
Scientific Name: Gavia adamsii

Shorebirds

More Resources

Glaucous gulls on beach near Barrow. Photo: Jukka Jantunen

Glaucous Gull movements and feeding

Principal Investigator: Robert Suydam, Ph.D.
Collaborators: UAF (Emily Weiser and Abby Powell), Troy Ecological Research Associates, BLM
Funding: NPR-A Impact Funds, BLM, UA Foundation Grant

Summary:  Prior to this study, there was relatively little information about diets of Glaucous Gulls on the North Slope.  Many have suggested that with increasing human activities on the North Slope, especially with regards to oil and gas exploration and development, gull populations have expanded.  This expansion could be due to the increased availability of food for gulls from landfills and dumpsters to supplement natural diets.  If gull populations increase, there could be increased predation on shorebirds, waterfowl or other tundra nesting birds.  This study was designed to provide more information about gull diet and movements for assessing and mitigating potential impacts from oil and gas activities.

This project has two main components, (1) to document the diet of Glaucous Gulls and (2) to document the movements of gulls to help interpret results of the diet section.  Below is an abstract summarizing the preliminary results of the diet work.  The approach was to collect pellets (regurgitated undigested food items) and prey remains from near nests and loafing areas of gulls.  Gulls eat a wide variety of items, including things from dumpsters and landfills.  Understanding movements of birds will aid in evaluating diet.  Movements of gulls were documented through the use of satellite telemetry.  Satellite transmitters were attached to gulls in 2009.  Many of those birds are still providing locations and movement data.  Data show that some nesting birds may travel 30 or more miles to forage at a landfill.  Other birds may remain closer to colonies and forage on rodents and birds.  Gulls will continue to be tracked in the coming year.

Diet of Glaucous Gulls at two locations on Alaska'a North Slope              
Emily L. Weiser and Abby N. Powell                                                                                                

Glaucous Gulls (Larus hyperboreus) are one of the major predators on Alaska’s North Slope and benefit from human activity.  As development for oil production continues, Glaucous Gull populations may grow, and it is important to understand how this will affect other wildlife.  No detailed study of Glaucous Gull diet has been conducted in northern Alaska, so it is not known what species would be affected by increasing gull predation.  In 2007, we completed a pilot season for a study of Glaucous Gull diet on the North Slope.  We collected gull pellets and other food samples at two locations in the National Petroleum Reserve - Alaska (NPR-A):  the city of Barrow and an undeveloped site southeast of Teshekpuk Lake.  Gulls at both sites consumed small mammals, birds, aquatic invertebrates, and fish.  At Barrow, human refuse was also an important component of gull diet. The results from this study will help predict the effects of continuing oil development in the NPR-A. Click here for a more detailed report of this study.

Sampling of pellets continued during 2008. Click here for a draft poster with these results.

Weiser, E.L. 2010. Use of anthropogenic foods by glaucous gulls (Larus hyperboreus) in northern Alaska. Thesis. University of Alaska, Fairbanks, Alaska.

Weiser, E.L., and A.N. Powell. 2011. Evaluating gull diets: a comparison of conventional methods and stable isotope analysis. Journal of Field Ornithology 82(3):297-310.

Yellow-Billed Loons

Yellow-billed loons (Gavia adamsii) migrate to the Arctic in the summer to nest near freshwater lakes along the coastal areas. These birds have been used culturally by the Inupiat people for many years as headdresses worn during special dances during the Messenger Feast. See this document titled The Cultural & Traditional Use of Yellow-Billed Loons on the Arctic Slope by Inupiat Eskimos for pictures of these headdresses and more information.

Yellow-billed loons are not listed under the Endangered Species Act but are considered a "candidate species" and, thus, are protected from hunting. However, on the North Slope of Alaska only, it is legal to keep up to 20 yellow-billed loons per year that are inadvertently caught in subsistence fishing nets, and these birds can be used for subsistence purposes.

For more information on the status of these birds and the regulations, you can go to this USFWS webpage. Click here to find out more about the biology of Yellow-billed Loons.

Shorebirds

Liebezeit, J., and S. Zack. 2007. Breeding bird diversity, density, nesting success and nest predtors in the Olak region of the Teshekpuk Lake Special Area - 2007. Report prepared by the Wildlife Conservation Society for NSB, USFWS, BLM, and other interested stakeholders.

Liebezeit, J., and S. Zack. 2010. Avian habitat and nesting use in the northeast region of the National Petroleum Reserve - Alaska, Ikpikpuk River site - 2010 Report. Report prepared by the Wildlife Conservation Society for BLM, ADFG, NSB, USFWS and other interested stakeholders.

Cunningham, J.A., et al. 2016. Habitat and social factors influence nest-site selection in Arctic-breeding shorebirds. The Auk: Ornithological Advances 133:364-377.

More Resources

Larned, W., et al. 2012. Waterfowl Breeding Population Survey, Arctic Coastal Plain, Alaska, 2011. Report prepared for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Division of Migratory Bird Management.

Banner photo credit: Ross' gull by Craig George