Skip to main content
U.S. flag

An official website of the United States government

Biological responses of Crested and Least auklets to volcanic destruction of nesting habitat in the Aleutian Islands, Alaska

May 15, 2018

Crested Auklets (Aethia cristatella) and Least Auklets (A. pusilla) are crevice-nesting birds that breed in large mixed colonies at relatively few sites in the Aleutian Island archipelago, Bering Sea, Gulf of Alaska, and Sea of Okhotsk. Many of these colonies are located on active volcanic islands. The eruption of Kasatochi volcano, in the central Aleutians, on August 7, 2008, completely buried all crevice-nesting seabird habitat on the island. This provided an opportunity to examine the response of a large, mixed auklet colony to a major geological disturbance. Time-lapse imagery of nesting habitat indicated that both species returned to the largest pre-eruption colony site for several years, but subsequently abandoned it within 5 yr after the eruption. In 2010, a rockfall site in a cove north of the old colony site began to accumulate talus, and groups of auklets were observed using the site in 2011. Use of the new colony appeared to coincide with the abandonment of the old colony site by both species, though surface counts suggested that Least Auklets shifted to the new colony sooner than Crested Auklets. At-sea surveys of seabirds before and after the eruption indicated that both Crested and Least auklets shifted their at-sea distributions from the waters around Kasatochi Island to nearby Koniuji Island. In combination, at-sea counts and colony time-lapse imagery indicated that Crested and Least auklets using Kasatochi responded to the volcanic disturbance and complete loss of nesting habitat at the main colony on Kasatochi with dispersal either to newly created habitat on Kasatochi or to an alternate colony on a nearby island.