Field Notes
U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service
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ALASKA PENINSULA/BECHAROF: Refuge Collects Avian Influenza Data on Tundra Swans
Alaska Region, September 11, 2009
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Tundra swan close up...
Tundra swan close up... - Photo Credit: n/a
Of it goes...
Of it goes... - Photo Credit: n/a
Getting those hard to reach spots.
Getting those hard to reach spots. - Photo Credit: n/a

Alaska Peninsula /Becharof National Wildlife Refuge has conducted Avian Influenza investigations of the Tundra Swan as part of the Region 7 Migratory Birds Avian Influenza program for the last four consecutive years.  This involves capturing flightless tundra swans.  Swans are flightless a few weeks each summer when they molt their flight feathers synchronously.  In this part of Alaska, swans often go to large lakes and join a flock during this molt.  The first year of the study, staff found flocks on six lakes and captured 95 swans using boats and salmon nets.  Unfortunately, in subsequent years they found fewer flocks on large lakes as the birds had moved to smaller lakes which could not be landed on by aircraft.

Therefore this year staff incorporated the use of an R-44 helicopter to capture swans in small groups near shallow lakes, as well as using refuge aircraft on the larger lakes.

During the two weeks targeted for this project, over half the days were too foggy or windy to fly or too rainy to handle birds.  Nevertheless, staff captured 105 tundra swans on eight capture days.  Each swan was banded with a standard USGS metal leg band and a blue neck collar with white letters and numbers.  This year’s birds sport the numbers P843 through P947.  Biologist took morphological measurements on each bird, collected feathers for isotope studies, and attempted to collect blood for toxicology and antigen studies.  Each bird was photographed with their collar and bill to document the size and shape of the yellow lore.  The birds were then released and returned to the tundra ponds. 

This project has passed the Institutional Animal Care and Use Committee review for Region 7.  The first priority is the safety of the humans and the welfare of the birds in conducting the study.  Incidentally, we captured one trumpeter swan that was with a group of tundra swans.  Trumpeters have been noted in the area since 2004.

This year we had help from many entities including staff assistance from US Geological Survey – Alaska Science Center (Wildlife Biologists Donnelly and Uher-Koch) and US Geological Survey – National Wildlife Health Center (Wildlife Biologist Dusek), Regional Aviation Manager Fox., use of Kodiak NWR Beaver, gear borrowed from Izembek NWR, and we contracted a helicopter from Pollux Aviation (Pilot Levanger).  Alaska Peninsula/Becharof NWR Wildlife Biologist Savage lead the project; other Refuge staff that participated included: Refuge Operations Specialist Finley, Wildlife Biologist Watts, Refuge Ranger Stanek, Deputy Refuge Manager Brady, Refuge Volunteers Finley, Wittkop, and Blush.  Thanks also to St. Peters and Wilson (Region 7 Migratory Bird Management), and Gilles (USGS – Alaska Science Center) for keeping us supplied with sampling vials and equipment.

Contact Info: Michael Brady, 907-246-1201, michael_brady@fws.gov
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