Current Projects


Pigeon Guillemot Restoration Research in Prince William Sound, Alaska. A component of ongoing efforts to restore the population of pigeon guillemots in Prince William Sound in the aftermath of the Exxon Valdez oil spill. Objectives include: 1) study the response of the pigeon guillemot breeding population following the control of introduced mink, the primary factor limiting guillemot population recovery in the Naked Island Group, 2) monitor the population size and productivity of pigeon guillemots at the Naked Island Group, 3) measure diet composition and chick growth rates of guillemots in the field, and 4) use social attraction methods to entice prospecting guillemots to recruit to former colony sites. PIs: Roby and Irons. Funding Source: U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. 2016-present

Implementing the Caspian Tern Monitoring Strategy for the Pacific Coast Region. Estimate the regional population status and trend of Caspian terns in the Pacific Flyway to understand the potential population-level effects of management to reduce the size of breeding colonies in the Columbia River estuary and on the Columbia Plateau. PI: Roby. Funding source: U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. 2015-present.

Evaluation of Foraging Behavior, Colony Connectivity, Dispersal, and Predation on ESA-Listed Salmonids from the Upper Columbia River by Caspian Terns. Evaluate the foraging behavior, colony connectivity, and dispersal of Caspian terns before and after management of the two largest breeding colonies for the species in the Columbia Plateau region in order to reduce predation on ESA-listed juvenile salmonids from the upper Columbia River. This project seeks to understand the responses of Caspian terns to the loss of their breeding site using satellite telemetry, resighting of color-banded terns, and monitoring the formation of new breeding colonies both inside and outside the Columbia Plateau region. PI: Roby. Funding source: Grant County (Washington) Public Utility District and the Priest Rapids Coordinating Committee. 2013-present. For more information, visit Tracking Caspian Terns in the Pacific Flyway.

Conservation of the Critically Endangered Chinese Crested Tern: Restoration of a Lost Breeding Colony. Restore the Chinese crested tern to the Jiushan Islands of Xiangshan County, Zhejiang Province, P.R. China, using techniques of social attraction and colony monitoring. The Chinese crested tern was presumed to be extinct, with no documented observations after 1937. In 2000, however, Chinese crested terns were rediscovered nesting in the Matsu Islands of the Taiwan Strait. Despite their recent rediscovery, Chinese crested terns are still considered one of the most endangered seabird species in the world and one of the most critically endangered vertebrate species. PIs: Chen and Roby. Funding source: Zhejiang Museum of Natural History, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. 2012-present.

Avian Predation on Juvenile Salmonids in the Lower Columbia River. Long-term research, monitoring, and evaluation project investigating the impact of Caspian terns on survival of juvenile salmonids from the Columbia River Basin that are listed under the U.S. Endangered Species Act. Determine the distribution and size of breeding colonies of Caspian terns, measure diet composition, estimate consumption of juvenile salmonids using bioenergetics modeling, quantify impact of these losses to the demography of ESA-listed salmonid stocks from the Columbia River Basin, monitor the effects of management, and consult extensively with federal, state, and tribal resource management agencies and other stakeholder groups on management options and the effects of management. PI: Roby. Funding source: Bonneville Power Administration. 1997-present. For more information, visit Bird Research Northwest.


Completed Projects


Developing Non-invasive Methods to Monitor Burrow-nesting Seabird Populations. Develop, test, and validate multiple new, efficient, and minimally invasive techniques to monitor populations of a representative burrow-nesting seabird, Leach’s storm-petrel, and generate and compare new indices to traditional methods of determining burrow occupancy. Specifically, we used upward viewing remote cameras and acoustic recorders to generate indices of activity (abundance) within plots where concurrent traditional surveys of audio playback, burrow camera, and grubbing also occurred. PIs: Roby and Suryan. Funding source: U.S. Geological Survey. 2014-2017.

Coastal Oregon Double-crested Cormorant Diet Study. Identify diet composition of double-crested cormorants from three estuaries in Oregon. Estimate the total number of juvenile salmonids consumed by cormorants using a bioenergetics model. PIs: Roby and Lyons. Funding source: Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife. 2012-2016.

Mapping Physical Characteristics of the Columbia River Mouth Using Transmittered Diving Waterbirds. Use two species of diving waterbirds, double-crested cormorants and Brandt’s cormorants, as sampling platforms to map a variety of physical characteristics at the mouth of the Columbia River (e.g., temperature, conductivity, depth, and bedform morphology). PIs: Roby and Lyons. Funding source: Office of Naval Research. 2013-2017.

Long-term Changes in Marine Bird Populations of Prince William Sound, Alaska. Investigate the population trends and changes in seabird community structure that have occurred in Prince William Sound over the last 40 years, including since the Exxon Valdez oil spill. PIs: Roby and Irons. Funding source: U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. 2011-2015.

Understanding the Extent and Severity of Disturbance by Cruise Ships to Kittlitz’s Murrelets in Glacier Bay National Park, Alaska. Investigate the effects of cruise ship traffic in Glacier Bay National Park on the behavior of Kittlitz’s murrelets, a seabird species proposed for listing under the ESA. PIs: Roby and Gende. Funding source: National Park Service. 2011-2014.

Breeding Biology and Nesting Habitat of Kittlitz’s Murrelet in Kodiak National Wildlife Refuge, Alaska. Investigate the nesting habitat and nesting success of a small seabird species that is experiencing declines throughout its range in Alaska and is proposed for listing under the ESA. PIs: Roby, Pyle, and Piatt. Funding source: U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. 2010-2012.

Biological Investigations of Yaquina Head Outstanding Natural Area. Identify causes and consequences of biological trends at Yaquina Head Outstanding Natural Area. Establish a partnership between agencies for future biological monitoring needs, while continuing some of the efforts in this project to address long-term variation in biological trends related to changing ocean conditions and climate effects. Update and disseminate the most current information through innovative outreach avenues to enhance visitor experience and perception of agency stewardship of public resources. PIs: Roby and Suryan. Funding source: U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. 2010-2012.

Monitor and Evaluate Caspian Terns and their Impacts on the Survival of Juvenile Salmonids in the Columbia River Estuary. Investigate the nesting ecology and food habits of Caspian terns at islands constructed by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in interior Oregon and northeastern California to assess the potential impacts of new or larger tern colonies on local stocks of forage fishes, particularly fish species of special concern (e.g., juvenile salmonids, Warner sucker, shortnose sucker, Lost River sucker). This study is important for evaluating the efficacy of the Caspian Tern Management Plan in reducing predation on Columbia Basin salmonids and for evaluating impacts to ESA-listed fish outside of the Basin. PI: Roby. Funding source: U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. 2008-2015. For more information, visit Bird Research Northwest.

Seabird Telemetry Project – Bering Sea Integrated Ecosystem Research Project. Investigate the impact of climate change in the Bering Sea on the foraging ecology, nutritional stress, and reproductive success of piscivorous colonial seabirds (murres and kittiwakes) at two Pribilof Islands with contrasting population trends. PIs: Roby and Irons. Funding Source: North Pacific Research Board. 2008-2013

Diet Composition and Reproductive Energetics of a Rare and Declining Seabird, the Kittlitz’s Murrelet. The primary objectives for this project were to: (1) characterize and describe the pre-breeding and post-breeding diet of adult Kittlitz’s murrelets in Icy Bay, Alaska, and evaluate long-term variation in diet using historical museum specimens; (2) Understand the relationship between physiological factors (e.g., reproductive status) and diet of individual adult Kittlitz’s murrelets; and, (3) Develop a reproductive energetics model to quantify energy and food requirements of adults during the breeding season. PIs: Roby and Kissling. Funding source: U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. 2008-2010.

Pigeon Guillemot Restoration Research in Prince William Sound. Identify the primary constraint to population recovery of pigeon guillemots at the Naked Island Group in central Prince William Sound, either (1) changes in the availability of preferred guillemot prey or (2) changes in predation rates on guillemot nests, and draft a restoration plan for the pigeon guillemot population at the Naked Island Group. PIs: Roby and Irons. Funding source: U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. 2007-2011.

Evaluating the Translocation of Albatross Chicks as a Mechanism for Establishing a New Breeding Colony and Determining Albatross Habitat Associations in the North Pacific. (1) Determine the efficacy of chick translocation as a management technique; (2) address multi-scale questions of habitat use (at the coarse scale, researchers will determine foraging patterns and habitat use of breeding birds and fine scale analyses will include direct observations of short-tailed albatross aggregations in known habitat “hot spots” (Piatt et al. 2006) in the North Pacific, including the Bering Sea). PIs: Roby and Suryan. Funding source: U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. 2007-2009.

Develop Baseline Information on Double-crested Cormorants Relative to Their Impacts on Survival of Salmonid Smolts in the Columbia River Estuary. Long-term research, monitoring, and evaluation project investigating the impact of double-crested cormorants on survival of juvenile salmonids from the Columbia River Basin that are listed under the U.S. Endangered Species Act. Determine the distribution and size of breeding colonies of cormorants, measure diet composition, estimate consumption of juvenile salmonids using bioenergetics modeling, quantify impact of these losses to the demography of ESA-listed salmonid stocks from the Columbia River Basin, research the feasibility of non-lethal methods for limiting or reducing the size of the double-crested cormorant colony on East Sand Island, and consult extensively with federal, state, and tribal resource management agencies and other stakeholder groups on management options. PI: Roby. Funding source: U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. 2004-2014. For more information, visit Bird Research Northwest.

Evaluate the Impacts of Avian Predation on Salmonid Smolts from the Columbia and Snake Rivers. Evaluate the impact of piscivorous colonial waterbirds that nest in the Columbia Plateau region on the survival of juvenile salmonids out-migrating from the Upper Columbia River and the Snake River. Determine the distribution and size of breeding colonies of fish-eating birds, measure diet composition, estimate consumption of juvenile salmonids using bioenergetics modeling. PI: Roby. Funding source: U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. 2004-2014. For more information, visit Bird Research Northwest.

Caspian Tern Alternative Site Feasibility Studies Investigate nesting colony status and diet composition at representative colonies in northern California, interior Oregon, and coastal Washington. This information is necessary for the development of a Caspian Tern Management Plan and Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, and NOAA Fisheries. The Caspian Tern Management Plan and EIS are mandated by a court-mediated settlement agreement with the goal of reducing predation on salmonids by Caspian terns nesting on East Sand Island. PI: Roby. Funding source: U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. 2003-2007.

Effects of Disturbance on Roosting Behavior of Endangered California Brown Pelicans in the Columbia River Estuary. Investigate the impact of anthropogenic and natural disturbances on the behavior and size of the night-time roost of California brown pelicans on East Sand Island in the Columbia River Estuary, the largest pelican roost in the Pacific Northwest and an incipient breeding colony. PI: Roby. Funding source: Bonneville Power Administration. 2001-2006.

A Review of the Nutritional Stress Hypothesis in Seabirds and Sea Lions: Effects of Diet Quality on Productivity of Apex Marine Predators. Evaluate available evidence on the role of nutritional constraints for limiting recovery of top trophic-level predators from declines that occurred following ocean regime shifts in the North Pacific Ocean during the late 1970s. Low availability of high-lipid prey may have caused a variety of piscivorous seabirds and marine mammals to decline in the subsequent two decades. PI: Roby. Funding source: North Pacific Universities Marine Mammal Research Consortium. 2001-2004.

A Satellite Telemetry Study of the Endangered Short-tailed Albatrosses: Oceanic Habitat Selection, Foraging Behavior, and Potential Conflicts with Long-Line Fisheries. Investigate how endangered short-tailed albatrosses respond to spatial and temporal variability in their pelagic environment, including (1) quantify the foraging range and marine habitat use during breeding and post-breeding, (2) identify environmental variables and oceanographic features that most influence at-sea distribution, and (3) identify potential conflicts with long-line fishing fleets in the North Pacific. PI: Roby. Funding source: U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. 2001-2010.

Barges as Temporary Breeding Sites to Assess Potential Colony Restoration for Caspian Terns. Test the feasibility of using barges as experimental colony sites for Caspian terns. Determine whether Caspian terns can be enticed to nest on barges and, if so, whether colonies on barges can be used to collect site-specific data on diet composition and nesting success. PI: Roby. Funding source: U.S. Geological Survey, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, National Marine Fisheries Service, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. 2001-2002.

Population Size, Productivity, and Food Habits of Seabirds Nesting on St. Lawrence Island, Alaska. Develop bioindicators of ecosystem structure and health for the Bering Sea using plankton-feeding and fish-eating seabirds nesting on St. Lawrence Island. Develop effective and reliable approaches to assessing population size, nesting success, and diet composition of seabirds. PIs: Roby and Irons. Funding source: U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. 2000-2006.

Behavioral Constraints to Harlequin Duck Recovery from the Exxon Valdez Oil Spill in Prince William Sound, Alaska. Investigate the effects of crude oil ingestion on the behavior and time-activity budgets of harlequin ducks, a sea duck species that was damaged by the Exxon Valdez oil spill and has failed to recover. Test the hypothesis that chronic ingestion of sublethal doses of weathered crude oil increases energy requirements and foraging times of harlequin ducks. PI: Esler. Co-PI: Roby. Funding source: U.S. Geological Survey. 2000-2004.

Use of Pile Dikes and Jetties by Cormorants, Brown Pelicans, and Steller Sea Lions in the Columbia River Estuary. Measure the use of pile dikes, jetties, and other navigational aids in the Columbia River estuary as roosting, nesting, and haul out sites for endangered California brown pelicans, threatened Steller sea lions, and avian predators on juvenile salmonids (i.e., cormorants). Evaluate potential effects of pile dike and jetty repair, replacement, or removal on ESA-listed species and their predators. PI: Roby. Funding source: U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. 2000-2002.

Pigeon Guillemot Restoration Research at the Alaska SeaLife Center. Investigate potential factors limiting recovery of pigeon guillemots, a seabird species damaged by the Exxon Valdez oil spill that has failed to recover, including (1) assess effects on nestling health of residual oil in food and develop nondestructive biomarkers of exposure to petroleum hydrocarbons and (2) understand how dietary factors constrain growth, development, and condition at fledging of young guillemots. PI: Roby. Funding source: U.S. Geological Survey. 1998-2002.

Effects of Diet on Growth and Development of Nestling Seabirds. Test the hypothesis that diet quality is a key limiting factor for seabird nesting success. Raise nestling seabirds in captivity on restricted diets of particular seabird prey, measure growth and development rates in relation to energy intake rates, measure energy assimilation efficiency on the various diets, and thereby assess the quality of various forage fishes as food for young seabirds. PIs: Roby and Piatt. Funding source: U.S. Geological Survey. 1996-1998.

Diet Composition, Reproductive Energetics, and Productivity of Seabirds Damaged by the Exxon Valdez Oil Spill. Assess the role of food constraints in limiting the recovery of seabird populations injured by the Exxon Valdez oil spill. Measure (1) diet composition of seabirds in the field, (2) energy content of seabird prey in the laboratory, (3) energetics of nesting seabirds, and (4) the role of various forage fish resources for limiting reproductive success of seabird species injured by the spill. PI: Roby. Funding source: National Marine Fisheries Service. 1995-2001.

Effects of Low-altitude Jet Aircraft Overflights on Nesting Success of Threatened Peregrine Falcons. Determine the impact of military jet overflights on the nesting success of peregrine falcons in interior Alaska. Quantify the behavioral responses of nesting peregrine falcons to jet overflights, determine those overflight characteristics most responsible for variation in falcon response, assess the relationship between behavioral response and subsequent nesting success, and measure the noise dose/productivity response relationship. PI: Roby. Funding source: U.S. Air Force. 1994-1999.

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