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Spectacled eider, photo by John Warden, USFWS


Sea Duck Research at the Alaska Science Center

male Spectacled Eider with an implanted satellite transmitter after release in the Colville River Delta, northern Alaska (Photo: Gwen Myers)
Male Spectacled Eider with an implanted satellite transmitter after release in the Colville River Delta, northern Alaska (Photo: Gwen Myers) - click on image for larger view

The sea duck subfamily, Merginae, has 15 diverse species that nest in North America including eiders (common, spectacled, Steller's, and king), scoters (black, surf, and white-winged), mergansers (common, hooded, and red-breasted) and goldeneyes (common and Barrow's), along with buffleheads, long-tailed ducks, and harlequin ducks.  Sea ducks have unique adaptations for life in high latitude marine environments, including glands which excrete salt after the consumption of sea water, dense plumage, and extensive fat reserves.  Sea ducks also have unique feeding adaptations, including the ability to dive under water using their feet and wings for propulsion, and specialized bills for consuming a variety of prey including clams, snails, and fish.  Historically, sea ducks have been an important resource for indigenous communities in the arctic, providing rich food, and down and densely feathered material for clothing.  Elaborate plumages and remote distributions also attract bird enthusiasts and waterfowl hunters.

A biologist measures the bill length of a male Surf Scoter in Fool Inlet, southeast Alaska (Photo: Matt Sexson)
A biologist measures the bill length of a male Surf Scoter in Fool Inlet, southeast Alaska (Photo: Matt Sexson) - click on image for larger view
The status of sea duck populations in North America is of concern as population declines have been detected in 10 of 15 species.  Of note, the eastern population of harlequin ducks has been listed as endangered in Canada, and spectacled eiders and the Alaskan breeding population of Steller’s eiders have been listed as threatened in the United States.  Among many potential threats, habitat change in breeding and wintering areas and environmental contamination have been linked to detectable population declines.  However, for many species, a basic understanding of harvest, distribution, habitat requirements, breeding and post-nesting ecology, and population dynamics is lacking.  At the Alaska Science Center, sea duck studies have been designed to anticipate and address priority information needs to support sound management decisions.

Sea Duck Projects

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Page Last Modified: February 04 2014 14:15:07.