Audubon Alaska just published a new Alaska watchlist, ranking species that are vulnerable, at risk, or in severe decline. They only publish this list every few years, and it’s meant to highlight species of conservation concern in Alaska. The goal is to promote research and conservation efforts across the state. Audubon Alaska publishes a yellow list and a red list.
Getting on the Red List means you are a species of highest concern.
There were four main criteria considered when Audubon was grading each regularly occurring bird species in Alaska. Those included:
(1) global population size
(2) minimum range (concentrated populations are more vulnerable)
(3) percent of global population occurring in Alaska
(4) population trend.
The list has grown substantially over the past ten years. Of all 13 species of birds we house at the ASLC, 5 are included on this red list: Red-legged kittiwakes, Steller’s eiders, Spectacled eiders, Horned puffins, and Tufted puffins.
For the first time, both Tufted and Horned puffins are now on the Audubon red list.
Tufted and Horned puffins’ inclusion in this list means they now closely fit these criteria for red-listed species. Their populations are very concentrated in densely packed rookeries during the breeding season, and Alaska is home to 77% of the global Horned puffin population and 79% of the global Tufted puffin population. Both species have shown steep declines in population size from 2007-2016 and have been largely affected by die-offs in the past few years.
While there are likely many factors contributing to the decline of puffin species, one possible factor is that the preferred food of puffins might be scarcer in our warming seas. The abnormally warm waters around their breeding areas appear to be affecting the productivity of the ecosystems these birds rely on to produce eggs and raise their chicks. For more on the effects and impacts of warming oceans on sea birds, check out this report from the IUCN (starts pg. 271).
This list serves as a great reminder of the important work our science, husbandry, education, and marketing teams, etc. do to promote the conservation of the animals we work with here at the ASLC. Our environment is a dynamic system that is rapidly changing due to the effects of climate change, and we strive to promote a sense of stewardship to that environment. The animals we house here are representatives of their wild counterparts. They are not only ambassadors to the public educating our visitors about animals that are inaccessible to most, but also help us learn more about those wild populations as well.
It’s important to remember how much our everyday actions really do impact what’s happening around us!
Here’s a link to the watchlist article, including a great recent success story involving the beautiful Emperor Goose. If you are concerned about the future of Alaska’s birds, it also had ideas and suggestions for what you can do to help!
Written by: Kristen Pelo, Assistant Avian Curator at the ASLC