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Audubon Society’s list of vulnerable Alaska birds balloons to 49 species this year

Birds with the blues

Posted: Friday, December 30, 2005


  A trumpeter swan stretches its wings on a pond several years ago. The magestic birds are on the list of fowl Audubon Alaska says are declining or vulnerable in the state of Alaska. File photo by M. Scott Moon

A trumpeter swan stretches its wings on a pond several years ago. The magestic birds are on the list of fowl Audubon Alaska says are declining or vulnerable in the state of Alaska.

File photo by M. Scott Moon

An old snag in the yard might spell eyesore to most home owners, but for the olive-sided flycatcher nesting next to a big dead tree is the equivalent of owning beach-front property.

The bare trees offer the stout, short-tailed songbird a view of their surroundings and a perch from which mating couples can keep an eye out for predators and food buzzing around in the air.

As house construction creeps into the Kenai Peninsula wilderness, maintaining a wild and sometimes rugged yard can go a long way in preventing birds such as the olive-sided flycatcher from appearing on endangered species lists and disappearing from the Alaska’s wilderness.

For the second time in three years, the Audubon Society has created a list of declining and vulnerable Alaskan birds, a list that ballooned to 49 species this year. According to Audubon, the 49 birds are at risk of being listed as endangered species.

Some of the primary concerns facing birds in Alaska include marine safety, loss of habitat and climate changes.

At risk marine birds such as the red-throated loon, for example, can die in large numbers due to oil spills and sometimes get caught and die in fishing nets.

But while biologists have identified some of the problems facing the red-throated loon population, they cannot fully account for its significant decline over the last 20 years.

“That’s a problem with a lot of these species. We have enough information to know they are going down, but not why,” said Alaska Audubon director Stan Senner. “Sometimes all we can do is speculate.”

Some of the species on the list arrive in Alaska in relative abundance, but face significant threats outside of the state or significant declines overall.

The olive-sided flycatcher, for example, has suffered significant population declines nation-wide, but continues to arrive in Alaska in healthy numbers in summer when it comes to breed.

The Kenai National Wildlife Refuge attracts a wide diversity of birds due to the broad range of habitat it offers and is a good place to look for at risk species such as the olive-sided flycatcher, rusty blackbird, trumpeter swan and perhaps even the elusive kittlitz’s murrelet.

“We cover the entire range of habitats on the refuge,” said Todd Eskelin, a biological technician on the refuge. “We go all the way from coast to alpine.”

The kittlitz’s murrelet nests in alpine areas between patches of snow and is sometimes known as the glacier murrelet because it feeds primarily where glaciers meet tidewaters. Only 20 kittlitz’s murrelet nests have been found world-wide, three of which were discovered near Kechemak bay, Eskelin said. The nests are so rare that biologists won’t publicly disclose there exact locations.

Although the small seabird’s nests have not yet been found in the refuge, there is a good chance they also breed in the refuge, Eskelin said.

“There’s certainly the right habitat,” he said.

The kittlitz’s murrelet may be the most threatened of the Alaskan birds on the Audubon’s list and the Alaska Fish and Wildlife Service has listed it as a candidate for its threatened and endangered species list.

The rusty balckbird, has also been gathering more attention in recent years. The black song bird has yellow eyes and one of the male’s two songs sounds like a rusty gate.

According to the Au-dubon, the bird can now only be found in low population densities, even in the center of its breeding range.


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