Recent changes in the status of Steller's Eider Polysticta stelleri wintering in Europe: a decline or redistribution?
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Steller's Eider Polysticta stelleri has a restricted arctic breeding range. The world population declined to c. 220,000 individuals in the late 1990s from an estimated 400,000-500,000 in the 1960s. The species has a limited global wintering distribution, occurring in marine habitats in north-east Europe, islands close to Kamchatka in Russia, and the eastern Aleutian Islands and south-west Alaska. European wintering numbers were estimated at 30,000-50,000 in the early 1990s, when the population was considered of favourable conservation status. Recent census data from the most important European wintering sites show annual declines of 8% in Norway since 1984, 9% in Estonia since 1994 and 22% in Lithuania since 1995, suggesting an overall 65% reduction in Europe. Counts in 1994 suggested that 30-50% of the European population wintered in Russia at that time. Current census data from Russia show similar declines along monitored sections of the Kola Peninsula wintering grounds since 1994. Accounting for trends in Russia, the current European wintering population could possibly stand at 10,000-15,000 individuals (a more than a 50% decline in 10 years), qualifying this population as Endangered under IUCN criteria. The changes in Baltic/Norwegian wintering numbers did not correlate with changes in the extent of ice-free marine waters in the Kola Peninsula/White Sea areas, but changes in annual numbers in Norway were correlated with winter North Atlantic Oscillation indices. Variation in annual numbers in the Baltic Sea correlated with projected number of juveniles among wintering birds. However, none of the possible causes discussed in this paper could fully explain the decline in Steller's Eider, confirming the need for comprehensive monitoring of the population throughout its winter range and for cohesive demographic monitoring to target effective conservation action.