The Amazing Difference Found in Dippers on the Elwha River

In a post-dam era, salmon are bringing new vitality to the ecosystem.

This story is brought to you by BirdNote, a show that airs daily on public radio stations nationwide.

In 2014, on the Olympic Peninsula in Washington state, the dams on the Elwha River were removed. It was the largest removal of its kind in history. As the river ran free again, salmon from the Pacific were able to spawn upstream for the first time in 100 years.

Biologists with the Lower Elwha Klallam Tribe, the Smithsonian Migratory Bird Center, and Ohio State University drew small samples of blood from dippers that they then released unharmed. Analysis of blood and feathers show that birds with access to salmon have higher survival rates and the females have better body condition than those with no access to the fish. These dippers are also much more likely to stay on their home territories, rather than expend energy to forage widely. And they are 20 times more likely to attempt raising two broods in a season, the most important contributor to population growth. 

So nutrients from spawned-out salmon and salmon eggs are giving the river’s ecosystem new vitality. 

This show is brought to you by Forterra—creating great communities and conserving great lands in Washington state. 

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Bird sounds provided by The Macaulay Library of Natural Sounds at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Ithaca, New York. American Dipper recorded by R S Little. River ambience recorded by Chris Peterson. ‘Stream, Moderate’ Track 18 Nature SFX recorded by Gordon Hempton.

BirdNote’s theme music was composed and played by Nancy Rumbel and John Kessler.

Producer: John Kessler

Executive Producer: Dominic Black

Written by Bob Sundstrom

© 2016 Tune In to     April 2016     Narrator: Mary McCann