St. Matthew Island (60° 24′ N, 172° 42′ W) and its small nearby satellites, Hall Island and Pinnacle Rock, are isolated in the northcentral Bering Sea. This infrequently visited location occupies a geographic position with a deep Bering Land Bridge history and is in an area of interdigitation of the Old World, New World, and Beringian avifaunas. It is known for its three Beringian endemics, a bird (McKay’s Bunting, Plectrophenax hyperboreus), a small mammal, and a plant. This level of endemism is striking for a high-latitude island. The only previous summary of the avifauna of St. Matthew island (Hanna 1917) included 37 species. Our report considers more than 125 species and synthesizes data on presence and absence, abundance, and phenology. Because visits have been infrequent and concentrated during summer, our understanding of migration in this region remains poor, but the area is clearly affected by both the Old and New world migration systems. There is sufficient evidence to show that some profound changes among the island’s breeding birds have occurred during the past century. In particular, the breeding range of Glaucous-winged Gulls (Larus glaucescens) has been extended north to include St. Matthew, a change that is correlated with a northward shift in the extent of sea ice (Maslanik et al. 1996). King and Common eiders (Somateria spectabilis and S. mollissima) also have shown substantial changes in summer abundance. Other changes in the summer avifauna (e.g., among shorebirds) may reflect the dynamics of edge-of-range phenomena. Because of its central position in a region undergoing profound climate change and its demonstrated track record in showing avifaunal shifts, St. Matthew Island may represent an important bellwether for monitoring the biological effects of further climate change in the northern Bering Sea.
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Vol. 114 • No. 4