Kodiak to be Site of Tern Study

Arctic Tern.  Lindsay Robinson / Flickr
Arctic Tern.
Lindsay Robinson / Flickr

Kayla Desroches/KMXT

Kodiak will be one of three sites where scientists will study colonies of seabirds called terns, their movements during the breeding season and their winter migratory patterns.

Robin Corcoran, bird biologist with the Kodiak National Wildlife Refuge, says it’s a collaborative research project with the refuge, the Alaska Department of Fish and Game, the U.S. Forest Service, and Oregon State University.

She explains how Kodiak, with its many small colonies, is a prime spot for such a study.

“One of the advantages that we have is that there was a program back in the 1970s called the outer continental shelf environmental assessment program, and there were researchers here, in Chiniak Bay and by the Sitkalidak Strait region on the east side of Kodiak where for three years they did really intensive studies with terns, so we have a lot of baseline from data the 1970s that really almost nowhere else in Alaska has.”

Both Arctic Terns and Aleutian Terns migrate to warmer areas in the winter months and nest in Kodiak during the summer, and Corcoran says they tend to nest in close proximity to one another.

“If the birds are nesting right on the edge of the beach, so right where the vegetation starts in the sand and gravel ends, those are primarily the Arctic Terns, and if you approach the nest, they’ll dive bomb and sometimes they’ll hit you in the head. The Aleutian Terns are nesting typically nearby, but they’re off in the vegetation and they’re not nearly as aggressive. They tend to fly away and watch the Arctic Terns defend the colony.”

She says both species have declined by over 90 percent in Alaska over the last three decades, and scientists have been tracking them due to that decline. During the collaborative project, which begins this summer, scientists will attach experimental satellite tags to the birds to follow their movement.

Kodiak is one of three sites to be studied. Corcoran says researchers will also look at a big colony near Yakutat and one outside of Dillingham.

Corcoran will give a talk about Kodiak’s terns tomorrow as part of the refuge’s Brown Bag Lunch Series. That’ll be at the visitor center at noon.

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