WCS North America

Monitoring in the Prudhoe Bay Oilfield

Since 2003, WCS has partnered with BP Exploration Alaska, Inc. in a long-term study monitoring breeding birds, predators, and other biotic factors within the Prudhoe Bay oilfield.

WCS has co-led (with U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service) a collaborative effort to understand how oil development affects the nest productivity of tundra-nesting birds at sites both near and far from oil development facilities in Arctic Alaska. Previous research and anecdotal evidence had indicated that nest predator species including arctic fox, glaucous gulls, and common ravens had increased in abundance in human-impacted areas because of the availability of edible garbage and nesting and denning structures associated with development. We tested whether nest survival (the ability of adult birds to successfully raise young) was lower near development than in areas distant from such development. 
Nest predation is typically the most important limiting factor in the reproductive success of nesting birds. Despite the recognized importance of nest predation in Arctic Alaska there is a lack of information confirming the identity of nest predators; in particular, which species are the most prevalent predators. No studies in Arctic Alaska have attempted to conclusively identify nest predators at remote sites well away from human infrastructure. Although the suite of nest predators is likely similar between human-disturbed and remote sites, because of the known attraction of certain predators to human-impacted areas, the relative importance of certain predators may be quite different. In 2010, WCS, with support from the BLM and the Alaska Department of Fish and Game, expanded their camera monitoring of active bird nests in the Prudhoe Bay oilfield and at the remote Ikpikpuk site.



Research and monitoring in the Prudhoe Bay Oilfield allows WCS to continue to better understand potential impacts to nesting birds from industry (by comparing these results to other sites on the North Slope where comparable data is collected) and in assessing the influence of climate change by examining long-term trends.  WCS conservationists are working in this area to:

  • Determine if there is an impact on nesting birds from nest predators associated with human infrastructure;
  • Use the results to provide recommendations on how to limit impacts to Arctic nesting birds near infrastructure
  • Identify the specific predators at active shorebird and passerine nests through the use of remote camera systems, and assess the importance of nest predator species;
  • Compare these findings with preexisting information in the literature in order to provide regional context on how the nest predator communities differ between developed (e.g. Prudhoe Bay) and remote sites in Arctic Alaska;
  • Provide detailed information and recommendations to relevant land managers so that effective management and wildlife conservation decisions can be made.



Prudhoe Bay Long-Term Monitoring of Breeding Birds

WCS has monitored breeding birds in the Prudhoe Bay oilfields annually since 2003 as part of a long-term effort.  Click here to download most recent annual report.

Identifying Nest Predators with Remote Camera Systems

From 2002-08 WCS identified predators in the oilfields using a small number of cameras placed at shorebird and songbird nests (click here for publication reporting findings).  In 2010, we expanded this effort at Prudhoe bay and, for the first time, at a remote site.  Check out the recent Prudhoe Bay report and Ikpikpuk River report for preliminary findings.


Through our long-term monitoring at Prudhoe Bay, we have documented advancement in nest initiation dates (as much as 10 days earlier over a 30 year time span) for the most common breeding bird species suggesting a link with climate change. Because we use a standardized sampling protocol, our findings at Prudhoe Bay can be compared statistically with our results from our remote field sites (Teshekpuk and Ikpikpuk).   Our collaboration with BP enables one of the only long-term (more than 5 years) assessments of bird activity in the Alaskan Arctic. 

In our collaborative study examining oil development impacts on nesting birds and predators, we found a strong effect on songbird (Lapland Longspur) nest survivorship, but no overall effect on shorebirds as their nest survival varied tremendously across years and across sites making our ability to statistically control for the effect of development difficult.  Subsequent analyses detected effects of development on two shorebird species (Red and Red-necked Phalaropes) nesting at the scale of the oilfields themselves.  Click here to read the abstract of this published paper.

We also completed a side-project as part of this larger effort in developing a standardized method to age shorebird eggs using the egg flotation technique. Click here to read the abstract of this published paper.


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WCS Arctic Beringia
P.O. Box 751110 Fairbanks, AK 99775
(907) 750-9991

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Alaska Department of Fisheries and Game
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