The first chick of 2018 has fledged from Cooper Island!

In a breeding season and field season that has been a tough one for both the Black Guillemots on Cooper Island and the investigators studying them, today was a day of celebration as morning nest checks revealed that the oldest nestling on the island had departed for the sea during the night.

The first fledge of the year is always exciting since it is an important benchmark in our field season, which begins with recording the owners of nest sites and continues with observing the dates of egg laying and monitoring the hatching and subsequent growth of nestlings.  While it is the parent birds who get all of the credit for a successful nesting season, we cannot help but feel some satisfaction having monitored daily the details of their three-month reproductive cycle.  Additionally, and certainly now with the recent decline in the size of the colony, a fledged chick provides hope for the future.  With sufficient luck, in three years the chick that fledged last night will return to Cooper to join the breeding population.

So we congratulate the proud parents White-Black-Gray, a bird fledged from Cooper Island in 1995 who has bred here since 2000, and Blue-Blue-Yellow, an immigrant (likely from one of the large Russian colonies) who had been breeding on the island for the past twelve years.

We are hoping that in the next few days their now independent fledgling will be joined by its sibling and a good number of the 50 birds that remain in nest sites. 

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Uncertain Future for Nestlings: Sea ice retreat shifts prey out of foraging range

George’s latest field report describes his daily nest checks as parents are feeding chicks to prepare them for fledging.

This year, with ice visible north of the island until a few days ago, there was an abundance of Arctic Cod. A walk through the colony found many parents flying back to their nests with adult cod (some bigger than six inches). Chick weights and survival reflected this abundance with no mortality of nestlings yet being recorded this year.

However, since sea ice was blown offshore by strong south winds two days ago, most chicks have been losing weight with others having little or no growth. Based on what we have seen in past years, parent birds should soon be shifting their prey choice to the more predictable – but less preferred – sculpin. The abundance of sculpin – which are present in a range of water temperatures – and the parents’ ability to shift their foraging strategies will determine the fledging success of the nestlings this year.

Read about this year’s nest checks and growth rates at Proteus.

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Long-term Data Collection Serves Many: Cooper Island study aids graduate students studying climate change

Graduate student Drew Sauve recently returned from Cooper Island. He describes his collaboration with George in this guest post.

The Black Guillemots on Cooper Island are one of many wild populations that are responding to climate change by changing when they lay their eggs. These Arctic seabirds want to lay their eggs as soon as the winter snow melts and spring begins, because their breeding season—from first access to a nest cavity to departure of chicks—is 80 days, an exceptionally long breeding period for a bird. Parent guillemots have to have their young ready to fly off to sea before fall snow accumulation begins to block entrances to nest cavities. In recent years, with sea ice retreating offshore in late summer, early breeding has the benefit of being able to provision young when the preferred prey of Arctic Cod is still readily available.

While there are decades of data that show spring snowmelt is occurring earlier in northern Alaska and, allowing guillemots to lay their eggs earlier, my research is focused on whether Black Guillemots are evolving to lay their eggs earlier.

Read the full post at Proteus.

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