The Colville River, with its tributaries the Kikiakarak and Kogosukruk Rivers, provides important nesting habitat for arctic species of cliff-nesting raptors. The area consists of the lower portions of these three rivers including 3.2 km (2 miles) on either side of the centerline. Each river flows across rolling tundra coastal plain and includes eroding cliff faces. These cliff faces are critical habitat for nesting raptors. As a result of the low number of cliffs within a vast tundra habitat with large riparian gravel bars, these cliff nesting raptors use these cliffs in high densities. The Colville River and its tributaries are also important breeding habitat for a variety of other arctic species, including high numbers of some trans-Beringian migrants.

Ornithological Summary

The Colville River is a huge watershed that drains much of the western and central Arctic north of the Brooks Range. It is Alaska?s largest river flowing into the Arctic Ocean, and is the world?s 4th largest truly ?Arctic? river (fed entirely by precipitation falling within the Arctic Circle). The cliffs along the river courses are important nesting habitat for arctic raptors, which use these sites in high densities. The tundra habitat nearest the river corridor is also important for hunting raptors.

The three species of cliff nesting raptors of major concern are Arctic Peregrine Falcon, Gyrfalcon, and Rough-legged Hawk. All three species nest throughout the Colville River drainage and Colville River Special Area. Their densities dramatically increase from the cliffs at the confluences of the Ipnavik and Etivluk Rivers, along the Colville River to Ocean Point.

The riparian area along the Colville River provides habitat for a variety of passerines; including possibly some of the highest densities in Alaska of these trans-Beringian migrants - Eastern Yellow Wagtail, Arctic Warbler, and Siberian Bluethroat.

Several species of shorebirds nest in the wet and moist tundra of the area including American Golden Plover, Red-necked Phalarope, Baird?s and Semi-palmated sandpiper, Bar-tailed Godwit and Whimbrel.

Conservation Issues

The area is threatened by an increase of oil and gas development. Threats include direct loss of habitat from the development footprint, including roads, pipelines, drilling pads, and residential facilities. Cliff nesting raptors are particularly vulnerable to disturbance at the nest site. Nest habitat is limited, so disturbed birds are unable to simply move elsewhere. Development will bring a general increase of human activities, including aircraft traffic, which will create additional disturbance to the birds. Increased infrastructure will provide access to a larger percentage of the area causing additional disturbance, and increased hunting and recreational use of the river corridor. Recreational users of the corridor tend to use boats for access and floating rivers in the area. Since the river is the agent of erosion which creates the cliffs so critical to the nesting raptors, recreational floaters pass directly under almost all nests. Increased recreational activity will add additional disturbance to these nesting birds. The Bureau of Land Management requires that permitted activities across the entire National Petroleum Reserve-Alaska adhere to a series of restrictions and required conduct around potential raptor nesting habitats, all of which are designed to minimize disturbance and nest abandonment.

Ownership

All areas north and west of the Colville River corridor are owned and managed by the Bureau of Land Management as the National Petroleum Reserve- Alaska. The majority of the south and eastern side of the corridor is State or ANCSA selected lands. The most northeastern portion of the corridor is Alaska State patented land.

Habitat

This area consists of the Colville River corridor from the lower Ipnavik River down river to Ocean Point, including the lower portions of the Etivlik, Kikakrarak and Kogosukruk Rivers. The bare rock cliffs along these rivers are critical habitat for nesting. The riparian areas along the rivers, including the gravel bars and shrubs within the river bottoms, are important hunting habitat, as are the lakes and ponds and adjacent tundra.

Land Use

The Colville River is used for travel between subsistence hunting and fishing opportunities. Umiat is a camp along the Colville which supports oil and mineral exploration activities. It also serves as a landing field and refueling stop for aircraft. Recreational boating, wildlife viewing, and wilderness tours are all activities now conducted within the Colville corridor. Since the 1950s, the Colville River corridor has been used as a research area for monitoring Peregrine Falcons.

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