In northern marine habitats, the presence or absence of sea ice results in variability in the distribution of many species and the quality and availability of pelagic winter habitat. To understand the effects of ice on intra- and inter-annual winter site fidelity and movements in a northern sea-duck species, we marked 25 adult Pacific Common Eiders (Somateria mollissima v-nigrum) on their nesting area at Cape Espenberg, Alaska, with satellite transmitters and monitored their movements to their wintering areas in the northern Bering Sea for a 2-year period. We examined changes in winter fidelity in relation to home-range characteristics and ice. Characteristics of polynyas (areas with persistent open water during winter) varied substantially and likely had an effect on the size of winter ranges and movements within polynyas. Movements within polynyas were correlated with changes in weather that affected ice conditions. Ninety-five percent of individuals were found within their 95% utilization distribution (UD) of the previous year, and 90% were found within their 50% UD. Spatial distributions of winter locations between years changed for 32% of the individuals; however, we do not consider these subtle movements biologically significant. Although ice conditions varied between polynyas within and between years, the Common Eiders monitored in our study showed a high degree of fidelity to their winter areas. This observation is counterintuitive, given the requirement that resources are predictable for site fidelity to occur; however, ice may not have been severe enough to restrict access to other resources and, subsequently, force birds to move.
Additional publication details
Effects of sea ice on winter site fidelity of Pacific common eiders (Somateria mollissima v-nigrum)