Dec 05 2012

Birds On Ice: Long-tailed Jaeger

Published by at 7:20 am under Beyond Bounds,Water and Shore

Ice has been in the news lately from its stunning disappearance in the Arctic Ocean this summer to it’s dramatic melting around the world chronicled in the new documentary Chasing Ice.

What will we lose when the ice disappears?  What birds depend on the Arctic climate?

I don’t know if this bird will suffer but I can tell you it depends on the tundra and tundra depends on ice.

The long-tailed jaeger (Stercorarius longicaudus) is a holarctic bird who spends the winter over the open ocean in the southern hemisphere, often at the edge of the continental shelf.  Because they migrate over the ocean, long-tailed jaegers are exceedingly rare in Pennsylvania having been documented only three times.

Long-tailed jaegers nest in the Arctic where their breeding success depends on an abundance of lemmings and voles.  In the High Arctic of North America they depend on a single species: the collared lemming.  If there aren’t enough lemmings, long-tailed jaegers don’t even bother to breed.

As the ice melts, the tundra will change and eventually be overtaken by woody plants. Will this reduce the population of lemmings?

If it does, long-tailed jaegers will stop breeding and eventually disappear … with the ice.

(photo by Jerzy Strzelecki on Wikimedia Commons. Click on the image to see the original)

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