The conservation of Steller's Eider Polysticta stelleri in Varangerfjord, Finnmark, Norway
Declines in the North American segment of the circumpolar Steller's Eider population has emphasised the conservation importance of the 30,000-45,000 birds wintering in the western Palearctic. Analysis of distribution data from the most important wintering area, Varangerfjord in Northern Norway, showed that during early May, Steller's Eiders occurred in larger flocks and a greater proportion occurred within 1 km of harbours than King Eiders or Common Eiders. This close proximity to human activity places them at risk from oil and other pollution, but tighter pollution control in recent years has reduced the likelihood of major incidents. Eiders drown in lumpsucker fishing nets, although the numbers involved are unknown. Modification of nets used and regulation of the season could reduce this source of mortality. Illegal hunting is thought to have very little impact on the population now, but the apparent low levels of recruitment in the population means that it may be sensitive to small scale changes in adult survival rate. During early May, Steller's Eiders foraged on different food resources at different states of the tide cycle, and foraged for extended periods throughout the 24 hour period. This feeding specificity and duration make them especially sensitive to habitat loss and human disturbance, the long feeding duration allowing little flexibility within the tidal cycle to compensate for lost feeding time. Extension of existing reserves to include inshore areas used by Steller's Eiders would seen to be an important conservation objective. More research is required to understand factors affecting the population outside of the wintering period, and this is being facilitated through newly established collaborative projects with Russian scientists.
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