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Size and retention of breeding territories of yellow-billed loons in Alaska and Canada

December 3, 2014

Yellow-billed Loons (Gavia adamsii) breed in lakes in the treeless Arctic and are globally rare. Like their sister taxa, the well-documented Common Loon (G. immer) of the boreal forest, Yellow-billed Loons exhibit strong territorial behavior during the breeding season. Little is known about what size territories are required, however, or how readily territories are retained from year to year. An understanding of territory dynamics and size is needed by management agencies as most of the U.S. breeding population of Yellow-billed Loons resides in the National Petroleum Reserve-Alaska where oil and gas development is expected to increase in the next few decades. Using locational data from a set of Yellow-billed Loons marked with satellite transmitters, we quantified an index of territory radius for each of three breeding populations: two in Alaska and one in Canada. The mean territory radius was 0.42 km for Yellow-billed Loons summering on lakes within the Seward Peninsula in northwest Alaska, 0.69 km for Yellow-billed Loons within the Arctic Coastal Plain of Alaska (encompasses the National Petroleum Reserve), and 0.96 km for Yellow-billed Loons within Daring Lake in mainland Canada. In this study, the mean territory radius on the Arctic Coastal Plain was about half the distance identified in stipulations for industrial development in the National Petroleum Reserve. The range in territory size among areas corresponded to a gradient in size of lakes used by Yellow-billed Loons with territories at the two Alaska sites on lakes averaging < 200 ha while territories in Canada were generally on much larger lakes. In the year after capture, 71% of Yellow-billed Loons retained territories that were held the previous year. Most Yellow-billed Loons that lost their territories wandered over a large area within 6 km of their prior territory. No Yellow-billed Loons occupied new territories, though one reacquired its prior territory after a 1-year hiatus. Retention of a territory in a subsequent year was positively related to early arrival dates at the breeding site. For Yellow-billed Loons on the Arctic Coastal Plain, this relationship was quite strong with a week lag in arrival decreasing the probability of retaining a territory by 80%. These collective observations, in combination with theoretical studies of population regulation by floaters (non-territorial birds), suggest that lake habitat suitable for breeding Yellow-billed Loons may currently limit population size in this species.

Publication Year 2014
Title Size and retention of breeding territories of yellow-billed loons in Alaska and Canada
DOI 10.1675/063.037.sp108
Authors Joel A. Schmutz, Kenneth G. Wright, Christopher R. DeSorbo, Jeff Fair, David C. Evers, Brian D. Uher-Koch, Daniel M. Mulcahy
Publication Type Article
Publication Subtype Journal Article
Series Title Waterbirds
Index ID 70134600
Record Source USGS Publications Warehouse
USGS Organization Alaska Science Center Biology WTEB