Offshore censuses of birds are lacking for inland seas, such as the Laurentian Great Lakes, but may provide valuable information for managing species that are in conflict with human interests. Birds were counted along 31 established transects in four habitats in western Lake Erie: offshore of waterbird refuges, offshore of beaches with human development, on reefs and shoals, and in open water. A total of 161 10-min counts were conducted between 24 April and 1 September 2000. The mean number of aquatic bird species/kmA? (species density) was greater offshore of refuges than on open water. For all habitats combined, species density increased over time. This was mainly due to the arrival of Bonaparte's Gulls (Larus philadelphia) and Great Black-backed Gulls (L. marinus), two fall and winter residents that do not breed in the study area, and increased use of open water and reefs and shoals by Herring Gulls (L argentatus) and Ring-billed Gulls (L delawarensis) after the nesting season. Species density was not strongly spatially autocorrelated, either for all species or for only those species that were floating on the water when recorded. Neither Double-crested Cormorants (Phalacrocorax auritus) nor Herring Gulls exhibited spatial autocorrelation. In contrast, Bonaparte's and Ring-billed gulls exhibited positive spatial autocorrelations. Unlike marine studies, species density was only weakly associated with water depth. This result was due mainly to Double-crested Cormorants, the only diving bird species that lived year-round in the area, which preferred reefs and shoals (depth 3-6 m) over open water (10 m). The results suggest that offshore habitat influences species density in this area during the breeding and immediate post-breeding seasons.
Additional publication details
Species density of waterbirds in offshore habitats in western Lake Erie