I examined ~2700 food samples collected from adult and nestling black-legged kittiwakes Rissa tridactyla from 1978 through 2011 on Middleton Island in the Gulf of Alaska. The kittiwake diet was composed chiefly of fish, but invertebrates were taken in appreciable quantities in April and May. Upon spring arrival at the colony, adult kittiwakes foraged regularly at night on vertically migrating mesopelagic prey—lanternfishes (Myctophidae), squids, crustaceans, and polychaetes—a behavior they largely discontinued by egg-laying. During incubation and chick-rearing, food samples contained mostly (~85% by weight) Pacific sand lance Ammodytes hexapterus, capelin Mallotus villosus, Pacific herring Clupea pallasii, sablefish Anopoploma fimbria, krill (Euphausiidae), and juvenile salmon Onchorynchus gorboscha and O. keta. A salient finding over the longitudinal study was the emergence, twice, of capelin as a dominant forage species—once in 2000 to 2003, and again in 2008 through 2011. Kittiwakes responded to capelin availability by producing markedly higher numbers of fledged young. The 2000 to 2003 event corresponded to a previously documented shift to cooler conditions in the NE Pacific, which apparently was relatively limited in magnitude or duration. The more recent transition appears stronger and may be more lasting. I submit that 2008 was an important turning point, marking a substantive reversal of warm conditions that began with the well-documented regime shift of 1977. That interpretation is consistent with the existence of a ~60 yr cycle in ocean and atmospheric conditions in the North Pacific. All else being equal, it predicts the next 20 to 30 yr will be favorable for species such as kittiwakes and Steller sea lions, which seemed to respond negatively to the 1977 to 2007 warm phase of the Pacific Decadal Oscillation.
Additional publication details
Kittiwake diets and chick production signal a 2008 regime shift in the Northeast Pacific