Look Closer . . . St. Lazaria Island
Life in the coastal rainforest
soft soil and
just right for seabirds of the night
as Day and Night
Stand under the boughs of a Sitka spruce
on St. Lazaria Island during the day and you will see a peaceful forest. Come
nightfall, the island magically transforms. Something whizzes by your head and
something else scurries over your toes. You hear odd, high-pitched laughter and
rasping cries all around you. Welcome to the world of seabirds of the night!
Seabirds of the Night
The most familiar seabirds
nest openly on cliffs and fly to and from those cliffs during the day. Few people
know that a "night shift" of seabirds exists. Fewer still see them nesting!
Let your eyes adjust to the darkness on St. Lazaria and you will spot a storm-petrel
or auklet tumbling out of the air after it crashes into tree branches. The small
bird patters over the forest floor until it finds a hole in the ground - its burrow
entrance - where deep inside its partner is sitting on an egg or a chick awaits
St. Lazarias Seabirds of Day and Night
* = seabirds of the night
Under the Cover
Arriving and departing their nests under cover of darkness
is an adaptation that certain seabirds have developed to avoid predators. Gulls,
especially, will make a meal of these small night birds if they are tardy leaving
the island before dawn. Once at sea, their agile flying or swimming protects them,
but on land they are much slower and more clumsy than the big gulls. When chicks
of nocturnal seabirds are ready to go to sea, they leave their burrows at night,
Inside the Earth
Not only do these nocturnal seabirds
come and go at night, but they also hide their nests out of sight underground.
They dig tunnels and nest chambers in the soft soil of the forest floor. These
burrows keep them out of reach of hungry gulls as pairs take turns incubating
their eggs and raising their chicks. Their earthen homes also insulate them from
temperature changes above ground and maintain a more constant humidity.
in the Tunnels?
All the safety defenses of nocturnal seabirds
wont stop a fox or rat if it reaches a seabird island. Burrow nesting birds
are among the first to disappear from an islands ecosystem when non-native
predators arrive. Well-meaning humans, too, can cause havoc. Now that you know
how families of seabirds hide in tunnels, you can imagine how walking over an
island could collapse these nest chambers.
Small, but Mighty
Lazaria is so small 65 acres that as storm surf slams against the
cliffs, you can feel the impact. A saltwater lagoon rises and falls with the tide.
Despite its size, St. Lazaria is one of the more productive seabird colonies
in Alaska. Half a million birds nest here more than 7,000 birds per acre.
Last updated:September 8, 2008