We used data from aerial surveys (1992–2010) of >100,000 km2 and ground surveys (1998–2004) of >150 km2 to estimate the density and abundance of birds on the North Slope of Alaska (U.S.A.). In the ground surveys, we used double sampling to estimate detection ratios. We used the aerial survey data to compare densities of birds and Arctic fox (Vulpes lagopus), the major nest predator of birds, on the North Slope, in Prudhoe Bay, and in nearby areas. We partitioned the Prudhoe Bay oil field into 2 × 2 km plots and determined the relation between density of aquatic birds and density of roads, buildings, and other infrastructure in these plots. Abundance and density (birds per square kilometer) of 3 groups of aquatic birds—waterfowl, loons, and grebes; shorebirds; and gulls, terns, and jaegers—were highest in the National Petroleum Reserve–Alaska (NPRA) and lowest in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. Six other major wetlands occur in the Arctic regions of Canada and Russia, but the largest population of aquatic birds was in the NPRA. Aquatic birds were concentrated in the northern part of the NPRA. For example, an area that covered 18% of the NPRA included 53% of its aquatic birds. The aerial surveys showed that bird density was not lower and fox density was not higher in Prudhoe Bay than in surrounding areas. Density of infrastructure did not significantly affect bird density for any group of species. Our results establish that the NPRA is one of the most important areas for aquatic birds in the Arctic. Our results and those of others also indicate that oil production, as practiced in Prudhoe Bay, does not necessarily lead to substantial declines in bird density or productivity in or near the developed areas.
Additional publication details
Importance of the National Petroleum Reserve-Alaska for aquatic birds