Identification of wintering regions for birds sampled during the breeding season is crucial to understanding how events outside the breeding season may affect populations. We assigned king eiders captured on breeding grounds in northern Alaska to 3 broad geographic wintering regions in the Bering Sea using stable carbon and nitrogen isotopes obtained from head feathers. Using a discriminant function analysis of feathers obtained from birds tracked with satellite transmitters, we estimated that 88 % of feathers were assigned to the region in which they were grown. We then assigned 84 birds of unknown origin to wintering regions based on their head feather isotope ratios, and tested the utility of claws for geographic assignment. Based on the feather results, we estimated that similar proportions of birds in our study area use each of the 3 wintering regions in the Bering Sea. These results are in close agreement with estimates from satellite telemetry and show the usefulness of stable isotope signatures of feathers in assigning marine birds to geographic regions. The use of claws is currently limited by incomplete understanding of claw growth rates. Data presented here will allow managers of eiders, other marine birds, and marine mammals to assign animals to regions in the Bering Sea based on stable isotope signatures of body tissues. ?? Inter-Research 2008.
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Assigning king eiders to wintering regions in the Bering Sea using stable isotopes of feathers and claws