During 1999-2002, we studied the abundance of fish-eating birds, primarily Ring-billed Gulls (Larus delawarensis) and California Gulls (L. californicus), and estimated their consumption of fish at Horn Rapids Dam and the Chandler Irrigation Canal return pipe on the Yakima River in eastern Washington. Earlier observations of gulls at these structures suggested a high level of predation of juvenile salmonids. The relationship between river flow, gull use at the sites and fish taken was also examined. Numbers of gulls (instantaneous counts of foraging and non-foraging individuals) at the structures varied daily between their arrival in late March-early April and departure in late June. Daily averages across the four years were 9.8 (SE ± 1.5) and 19.1 (SE ± 2.5) gulls at Horn Rapids and Chandler, respectively. Gull numbers at Horn Rapids peaked dramatically during the last two weeks in May, reaching maxima of 37 (SE ± 2.2) to 133 (SE ± 4.2) gulls/day. This increase appeared to be associated with the hatchery release of one to two million juvenile autumn Chinook (Oncorhynchus tshawytscha) above the dam. A comparable peak in gull abundance was not observed at Chandler. Diurnal patterns of gull abundance differed between sites and among years. Relationships between fish take and water flow also varied within and among years at the two sites. Low seasonal flows were associated with increased predation at Chandler, whereas high seasonal flows were associated with increased predation at Horn Rapids. Assuming all fish taken were salmonids, consumption at both sites combined was estimated to be ≤10.3% of the juvenile salmonids passing the two sites.
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