Field Notes
U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service
Field Notes Entry   
SELAWIK: Subsistence Hunters Contribute to Scoter Research
Alaska Region, September 24, 2007
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A new research approach in northwest Alaska may unlock the wintering and molting areas of Kotzebue Sound’s breeding black. Instead of capturing and marking birds to determine migration routes, biologists are using samples from subsistence hunters to study the birds’ feather chemistry and compare these with black scoters from other regions.  The approach involves determining ratios of certain chemicals called stable isotopes in the bird’s feathers to indicate the geographic area where those feathers were replaced during molt

Working with tribal councils in Selawik and Buckland, Selawik National Wildlife Refuge Wildlife Biologist Tina Moran contacted subsistence hunters to request heads and wings from their harvested black scoters. The goal of 40 samples was nearly reached when hunters saved samples from 36 birds.  Moran traveled to the villages to collect the samples and meet with hunters to gather information about their observations and experiences

Black scoters in other parts of Alaska and British Columbia have long been marked with transmitters, but none of these has ever shown up in the Kotzebue Sound area.  Biologists speculate that local breeding black scoters might winter in Russia.  Chemical analyses of the hunters’ samples will hopefully shed light on this question.

This project was a cooperative effort with Migratory Bird Management, USGS Biological Resources Division, local tribal councils, and Selawik National Wildlife Refuge. Many thanks to Refuge Information Technician Clyde Ramoth who led the sample collection in Selawik. The project is part of a larger study to determine the population status and trends of black scoters. 

Contact Info: Kristen Gilbert, 907-786-3391, Kristen_Gilbert@fws.gov
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