Alaskan Spectacled eider (SPEI) populations declined at an alarming rate from the early 1970s to the early 1990s1,2, resulting in the species being listed as threatened under the US Endangered Species Act in 1993. Causes for decline are not clear; however concerns have prompted many studies attempting to explain population trends and aid recovery efforts. In 2003, The Alaska SeaLife Center (ASLC) established a research flock of 12 captivity reared juvenile spectacled eiders (six males and six females). Since the Eider Research Program's inception, two rehabilitated males were added to the captive flock. Current research on the flock includes studies in nutritional, reproductive, foraging, and stress physiology, as well as basic health monitoring. In April 2004, we began behavioral observations to record overall activity budgets and changes in behavioral patterns.
We conducted hour-long observations on captive SPEI (30 min per sex) twice a week. Observations took place from an indoor observation deck overlooking the captive eider enclosures. Watching the flock from left to right through binoculars, we recorded snapshot behaviors at one-minute intervals. Behaviors included resting (i.e., loafing, sleeping), maintenance (i.e., preening, bathing), locomotive (i.e., walking, swimming), social interaction (i.e., courtship, aggression), and exploratory behaviors (i.e., peering, alert), and noted other unique activity (i.e., copulations, etc.). We also recorded the location in which each behavior took place (land or water), and since one pool was changed to freshwater for the breeding season, were able to note fresh vs. saltwater for part of the observational period. Preliminary results suggest resting behaviors as the most frequently observed, followed by preening and swimming. In 2004 courtship behaviors were observed from the start of the study (4/2/04) through 7/2/04 and occurred more frequently in water than on land for both sexes. The two copulation attempts we witnessed (4/30/04 and 6/24/04) both occurred in freshwater. Further analyses, including observations from a full year, are necessary to detect potential seasonal and physiological trends.
1. Flint PL, JB Grand 1997. Survival of Spectacled eider adult females and ducklings during brood rearing. J. Wildl.Manage.61(1): 217-221
2. Stehn RA, CP Dau, B Conant, WI Butler, Jr. 1993. Decline of Spectacled eiders in western Alaska. Arctic 46:264-277