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Risk of predation and weather events affect nest site selection by sympatric Pacific (Gavia pacifica) and Yellow-billed (Gavia adamsii) loons in Arctic habitats

April 1, 2014

Pacific (Gavia pacifica) and Yellow-billed (G. adamsii) loons nest sympatrically in Arctic regions. These related species likely face similar constraints and requirements for nesting success; therefore, use of similar habitats and direct competition for nesting habitat is likely. Both of these loon species must select a breeding lake that provides suitable habitat for nesting and raising chicks; however, characteristics of nest site selection by either species on interior Arctic lakes remains poorly understood. Here, logistic regression was used to compare structural and habitat characteristics of all loon nest locations with random points from lakes on the interior Arctic Coastal Plain, Alaska. Results suggest that both loon species select nest sites to avoid predation and exposure to waves and shifting ice. Loon nest sites were more likely to be on islands and peninsulas (odds ratio = 16.13, 95% CI = 4.64–56.16) than mainland shoreline, which may help loons avoid terrestrial predators. Further, nest sites had a higher degree of visibility (mean degrees of visibility to 100 and 200 m) of approaching predators than random points (odds ratio = 2.57, 95% CI = 1.22–5.39). Nests were sheltered from exposure, having lower odds of being exposed to prevailing winds (odds ratio = 0.34, 95% CI = 0.13–0.92) and lower odds of having high fetch values (odds ratio = 0.46, 95% CI = 0.22–0.96). Differences between Pacific and Yellow-billed loon nesting sites were subtle, suggesting that both species have similar general nest site requirements. However, Yellow-billed Loons nested at slightly higher elevations and were more likely to nest on peninsulas than Pacific Loons. Pacific Loons constructed built up nests from mud and vegetation, potentially in response to limited access to suitable shoreline due to other territorial loons. Results suggest that land managers wishing to protect habitats for these species should focus on lakes with islands as well as shorelines sheltered from exposure to prevailing wind and ice patterns.

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