Strategies for Nest-Site Selection by King Eiders



ABSTRACT  Nest site selection is a critical component of reproduction and has presumably evolved in relation to predation, local resources, and microclimate. We investigated nest-site choice by king eiders (Somateria spectabilis) on the coastal plain of northern Alaska, USA, 2003–2005. We hypothesized that nest-site selection is driven by predator avoidance and that a variety of strategies including concealment, seclusion, and conspecific or inter-specific nest defense might lead to improved nesting success. We systematically searched wetland basins for king eider nests and measured habitat and social variables at nests (n = 212) and random locations (n = 493). King eiders made use of both secluded and concealed breeding strategies; logistic regression models revealed that females selected nests close to water, on islands, and in areas with high willow (Salix spp.) cover but did not select sites near conspecific or glaucous gull (Larus hyperboreus) nests. The most effective nest-placement strategy may vary depending on density and types of nest predators; seclusion is likely a mammalian-predator avoidance tactic whereas concealment may provide protection from avian predators. We recommend that managers in northern Alaska attempt to maintain wetland basins with islands and complex shorelines to provide potential nest sites in the vicinity of water.