In this chapter we review existing knowledge of marine birds in the Gulf of Alaska. Three estuarine systems in the Gulf provide critical habitat for migratory shorebirds and waterfowl: 1) the Stikine River Delta, 2) Cook Inlet, and 3) the Copper River Delta. Over 20 million waterbirds are estimated to use the latter system during spring migration. Western sandpipers, dunlin, and northern pintails numerically dominate this migration. Breeding populations of shorebirds and waterfowl in the Gulf are small compared with those elsewhere in Alaska. Of those Gulf regions suitable for nesting waterfowl and shorebirds, the Copper River Delta is the most important. Species diversity and the number of shorebirds wintering in the Gulf are low; however, water- fowl wintering in the Gulf number at least in the low millions. These birds concentrated in sheltered, near-shore regions where their epibenthic and infaunal prey are accessible.
Over nine million seabirds (twenty-six species) nest in the Gulf of Alaska at more than 800 sites. Seabird productivity varies markedly. Food availability seems to have a large influence on reproductive success, especially for surface-feeding species such as the black-legged kittiwake. Seabird densities are highest over shelf and shelf-break habitats during spring migration and in summer. Sooty and short-tailed shearwaters dominate the pelagic avifauna both numerically and in terms of biomass. Seabird densities are generally lower in winter than in summer as a result of both a southward migration of some species and offshore dispersal of others. A variety of prey species are used by seabirds in the Gulf; of these, capelin, sand lance, and euphausiids are of greatest importance. Trophically, seabirds in the Gulf range from near primary con- sumers to third-order carnivores, ingesting an estimated 1,120,000 mt during the 120-day summer period.