Alaska Science Center
Status and ecology of kittiwakes (Rissa tridactyla and R. brevirostris) in the North Pacific
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Product Type: Government Publication
Authors: Hatch, S. A., G. V. Byrd, D. B. Irons, and G. L. Hunt, Jr.
Black-legged Kittiwakes (Rissa tridactyla) are widely distributed in the subarctic North Pacific and adjacent seas, with a total breeding population of about 2.6 million individuals. Red-legged Kittiwakes (R. brevirostris) breed in four locations, and at least 95% of their estimated world population of 230,000 birds nest on one island (St. George, Pribilof Islands). Compared to Black-legged Kittiwakes in Britain, both species in Alaska have exhibited poor productivity since at least the mid-1970s. The situation worsened during the 1980s, with recent (1985-1989) estimates of annual productivity averaging 0.19 young per nest. The frequency of "colony failures" (<0.1 young per nest) exceeded 50% in Alaska between 1985 and 1989. Low productivity has involved, to varying degrees, the failure of many birds to lay eggs, reduced clutch sizes, low hatching success, and poor chick survival. There is evidence of population declines in some colonies of Black-legged Kittiwakes, but other colonies appear to be stable or increasing. High adult survival may account for the relative stability of Black-legged Kittiwakes, but widespread declines are anticipated unless productivity improves. The evidence suggests that poor productivity results from low surface availability of key prey species.