• Breeding ecology of white-winged scoters on the Yukon Flats, Alaska

      Safine, David Elliot (2005-08)
      Breeding bird surveys indicate a long-term decline in the numbers of scoters (Melanitta sp.) in North America. My objectives were to estimate survival of nests, ducklings, and adult female White-winged Scoters (Melanitta fusca) breeding on the Yukon Flats National Wildlife Refuge, Alaska, 2002-2004, within their primary breeding range. I measured habitat variables at nest sites and random sites in the study area to characterize nest habitat selection, and investigated breeding incidence with a laboratory analysis of circulating concentrations of the plasma yolk precursors vitellogenin (VTG) and very-low density lipoprotein (VLDL). The low hen and nest survival rates I observed combined with the substantial proportion of non-breeders on the breeding ground (up to 28%) may be responsible for the observed declines in abundance if annual survival rates are not high enough to maintain stable populations. Scoters avoided nesting in graminoid habitat, but nested in all other scrub or forested plant communities in proportion to their availability, selecting sites with more cover, higher variability of cover, and closer to edge and water than random sites. At the nest habitat scale, scoters are generalists, which may reduce the foraging efficiency of nest predators.