Breeding Bird Surveys at Alexandra Fiord, Ellesmere Island, Nunavut (1980–2008)

  • Sarah A. Trefry
  • Bill Freedman
  • James M.G. Hudson
  • Gregory H.R. Henry
Keywords: active-flushing, Arctic, climate change, Ellesmere Island, High Arctic, monitoring, rope-drag, spot-mapping, survey


Long-term monitoring of bird populations in the Arctic is of considerable interest as this area is experiencing rapid climate warming; however, multi-decadal studies in the Canadian High Arctic are rare. Over five summers between 1980 and 2008, we conducted breeding bird surveys by walking transects and mapping territories in a periglacial lowland on east-central Ellesmere Island, Nunavut. In all survey years, snow bunting (Plectrophenax nivalis), Lapland longspur (Calcarius lapponicus), and Baird's sandpiper (Calidris bairdii) were the most abundant species. Over the study period, the assemblage of breeding bird species appears to have changed little, except for an increase in Lapland longspur. In the summer of 2008, we also compared two techniques for censusing territories. We found that spot-mapping, a simple and cost-effective method, produced similar results to the more labour-intensive active-flushing. Spot-mapping is therefore suitable for conducting bird surveys in northern locations where the vegetation is short, the terrain is flat, and the visibility is extensive. In the coming years, it will be important to continue monitoring Arctic birds to determine how climate change is affecting their breeding populations.