WatchList Species Account for Surfbird (Aphriza virgata)

Qualifies for the list as a Declining Yellow List Species

 

Photo: © Larry Master, NatureServe
Photo: © Larry Master, NatureServe

The Surfbird breeds above tree-line in the interior mountains of Alaska and the Yukon Territory, up to an elevation of 1,800 m. In this range it is widespread but sparsely distributed in dry, often rocky alpine tundra characterized by lichens and dwarf shrubs, with occasionally mosses or sedges a component of its habitats; much of the details of its summer range is not well known. Outside the breeding season this highly migratory species is hardly ever seen inland. In winterit is found on rocky coastal shores from south-central and southeastern Alaska all the way to Chile, a distance of some 17,500 kilometers, the longest and narrowest distribution of any wintering North American species. During breeding it feeds mostly on insects and in winter on intertidal invertebrates, including various mollusks.

 

One estimate of world population sets the numbers on the order of 100,000. Its breeding habitat seems secure as much is on public lands dedicated to conservation, such as large national parks and wilderness areas. In winter however it frequents habitats subject to oil spills and areas where coastal development is taking place. An effort to identify important wintering sites and stopovers during migration would help its conservation, along with an effective monitoring scheme to assess more accurately the status of its numbers.