Nesting ecology of Whimbrels in boreal Alaska


99 – 113

1 September 16

Christopher M. Harwood, Robert E. Gill, Jr., Abby N. Powell


Christopher Harwood
Kanuti National Wildlife Refuge, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Fairbanks, Alaska 99701, USA


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Breeding ecology studies of boreal waders have been relatively scarce in North America. This paucity is due in part to boreal habitats being difficult to access, and boreal waders being widely dispersed and thus difficult to monitor. Between 2008 and 2014 we studied the nesting ecology of Whimbrels Numenius phaeopus hudsonicus in interior Alaska, a region characterized by an active wildfire regime. Our objectives were to (1) describe the nesting ecology of Whimbrels in tundra patches within the boreal forest, (2) assess the influence of habitat features at multiple scales on nest-site selection, and (3) characterize factors affecting nest survival. Whimbrels nested in the largest patches and exhibited a consistently compressed annual breeding schedule. We hypothesized that these Whimbrels would exhibit synchronous and clustered nesting, but observed synchronous nesting in only 2009 and 2011, and evidence of clustered nesting at just one study area in 2009, providing limited support for the hypothesis. Nests tended to be on hummocks and exhibited lateral concealment around the bowl, suggesting a trade-off between a greater view from the nest and concealment. However, our analysis failed to identify other important habitat features at scales from 1–400 m from the nest. Our best-supported nest survival model showed a strong difference between our two main study areas, but this difference remains largely unexplained. Given the increased frequency, severity, and extent of wildfires predicted under climate change scenarios, our study highlights the importance of monitoring the persistence of boreal tundra patches and the Whimbrels breeding therein.