Alaska Science Center

Aerial survey, detectability and movements of Yellow-billed Loons

Use predictive models, physiological analyses, satellite telemetry, and habitat assessments to document use of coastal marine habitats and identify migration pathways and wintering areas of Yellow-billed Loons.


Yellow-billed Loons are sparsely distributed with a world-wide population thought to be less than 10,000 individuals, and a U.S. population of about 3,000. In Alaska, breeding Yellow-billed Loons are restricted to coastal tundra areas north of the Brooks Range, with highest densities occurring just west of Teshekpuk Lake along the Ikpikpuk River drainage in the National Petroleum Reserve of Alaska (NPRA), and also in the Colville River Delta. This small population size and restricted distribution makes the species inherently vulnerable to perturbations of its environment. Two principal data gaps hamper the ability to more adequately assess and mitigate population risk. First, while on breeding areas, Yellow-billed Loons nest in close proximity to current (Colville River) and future (NPRA) petroleum development activities. The amount of time loons spend on coastal marine waters in these areas versus at their inland breeding lakes is unknown, but would be expected to impact their exposure level to spilled oil. One hypothesis is that in years of poor breeding success, loons make higher use of coastal marine waters and may be at greater risk of exposure to such spills. Because of the likely high natural survival rate and life expectancy of adult Yellow-billed Loons, spill-induced mortality of adults could have profound impacts on population trends. A second data gap is the lack of knowledge concerning where Yellow-billed Loons go during migration and winter. Yellow-billed Loons are known to winter in coastal waters of southeast Russia (Kamchatka Peninsula, Sahkalin Island) and also in southeast and southcentral Alaska, including Prince William Sound, but no links between breeding and wintering populations have ever been established for the species. Identifying migration and winter locations is important for understanding exposure to potential risks (e.g., oil, PCB's).
Title Type
USGS Changing Arctic EcosystemsProject Website


Schmutz, Joel A., 907-786-7186

Status: completed
Start Year: 2005
End Year: 2015

Project Sites

FWS - Alaska Region

USGS Mission Area and Program
EcosystemsWildlife Program

Major Initiatives
LCC - Arctic Landscape Conservation Cooperative
USGS - Changing Arctic Ecosystems Initiative
USGS - Wetlands and Terrestrial Ecology

Biological Classification > Animals/Vertebrates > Birds > Loons
Biosphere > Ecological Dynamics