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Back on St. George

08 Jun 2017, by admin in Education, Kittiwake Behavior

The red-legged kittiwake research team are back on St. George Island.  Here’s Rachael Orben’s update on the start of their field season:

Abram and I arrived on St George about a week ago. It is amazing how different each year feels.

This year the grass and tundra are still very brown. The kittiwakes are here – but the cliffs were very quiet with little sign of new nest building when we arrived.

Luckily things have picked up and we have been watching birds build nests on bare ledges. Not everyone though, so we don’t know what kind of year it might turn out to be. We have some hope for lots of eggs to balance out the last two years of less than 50% laying success.

This time of year is exciting on the cliffs, lots of fights for nesting ledges,
pair bonding, gathering of nesting material, and occasional flushing (birds leaving the cliffs en mass) events that result in a spinning, squeaking cloud of birds resettling themselves on their particular spots.

Kittiwakes fighting for a nesting ledge. Photo by Rachael Orben

Nest building is fun to watch. Birds often go looking for nesting material in small groups at the bottom of the cliffs or in grassy patches. They bring a bill load of mud, grass, or moss back to their nest and then go pat, pat, pat to stick the nest securely to their nesting ledge.

Kittiwakes collecting nest material at the bottom of the cliff.  Photo by Rachael Orben

In this last week, we have been busy. We tagged 4 kittiwakes with GPS
loggers for the pre-breeding period. We resighted all but one of our
red-legged kittiwakes carrying geolocator loggers on the low cliffs
near the village. So far our resighting efforts on High Bluffs have
been less successful, but there is still time. We have caught back 14
birds carrying geolocators and this year we are all ready with our
computer codes so we have been processing the data as we catch them
back.

And look where the kittiwakes went!

Map of red-legged kittiwakes year-round tracks from geolocation data
loggers (June 2016 to June 2017).