Ecological links between salmon, large carnivore predation, and scavenging birds


R. D. Field, Earth to Ocean Group, Dept of Biological Sciences, Simon Fraser Univ., 8888 Univ. Drive, Burnaby, BC V5A 1S6, Canada. E-mail:


We compared scavenging bird abundance and diversity across 17 estuaries on the Central Coast of British Columbia, Canada in relation to landscape characteristics and biomass of spawning salmon and senescent and depredated salmon carcasses. We discovered that all metrics for spawning salmon and carcass biomasses were strong predictors of scavenger abundance and diversity. Specifically, Shannon’s diversity, which emphasizes rare species richness, and total abundances of scavengers, corvids (Corvus spp.), and small and large gulls (Larus spp.) were most strongly predicted by total biomass of carcasses. In contrast, the abundance of bald eagles Haliaeetus leucocephalus was most strongly predicted by biomass of carcasses that had been killed or scavenged by other predators (mostly bears and wolves). Simpson’s diversity, which emphasizes evenness of common species, was best predicted by total spawning salmon biomass. Estuary area also featured prominently among top predictors of most scavenger metrics. Our results suggest a link between terrestrial salmon predators and bald eagles, and that available salmon biomass is important for maintaining the abundance and diversity of scavenging birds that congregate at estuaries throughout the spawning season.