Depredation of Common Eider, Somateria mollissima, Nests on a Central Beaufort Sea Barrier Island: A Case Where No One Wins


  • John A. Reed U.S. Geological Survey, Alaska Science Center, 1011 East Tudor Road, Anchorage, Alaska 99503
  • Deborah L. Lacroix Centre for Wildlife Ecology, Simon Fraser University, 8888 University Drive, Burnaby, British Columbia V0R 1B0
  • Paul L. Flint U.S. Geological Survey, Alaska Science Center, 1011 East Tudor Road, Anchorage, Alaska 99503



Arctic Fox, Alopex lagopus, Common Eider, Somateria mollissima, Glaucous Gull, Larus hyperboreus, nest depredation, predator-prey interaction, Beaufort Sea, Alaska


Along the central Beaufort Sea, Pacific Common Eiders (Somateria mollissima v-nigra) nest on unvegetated, barrier islands; often near nesting Glaucous Gulls (Larus hyperboreus). Nest-site choice likely reflects a strategy of predator avoidance: nesting on islands to avoid mammalian predators and near territorial gulls to avoid other avian predators. We observed a nesting colony of Common Eiders from first nest initiation through nesting termination on Egg Island near Prudhoe Bay, Alaska (2002 – 2003). Resident gulls depredated many eider nests, mostly during initiation. All nests failed when an Arctic Fox (Alopex lagopus) visited the island and flushed hens from their nests, exposing the eggs to depredation by the fox and gulls (resident and non-resident). Common Eiders actively defended nests from gulls, but not from foxes. Likely all three species (i.e., eiders, gulls, and foxes) ultimately achieved negligible benefit from their nest-site selection or predatory activity: (a) island nesting provided no safety from mammalian predators for eiders or gulls, (b) for Common Eiders, nesting near gulls increased egg loss, (c) for Glaucous Gulls, nesting near colonial eiders may have reduced nest success by attracting the fox, and (d) for Arctic Foxes, the depredation was of questionable value, as most eggs were cached and probably not recoverable (due to damage from fall storms). Thus, the predator-prey interactions we observed appear to be a case where little or no fitness advantage was realized by any of the species involved.