Conservation of predators requires a comprehensive understanding of their life history and ecology, including the delineation of temporal and spatial dietary habits. Gyrfalcons (Falco rusticolus), Willow Ptarmigan (Lagopus lagopus), and Rock Ptarmigan (L. muta) are Arctic specialists, strongly linked in a dynamic predator-prey relationship, and facing similar conservation threats. We studied Gyrfalcon predation of ptarmigan on Alaska's Seward Peninsula and investigated whether species-specific contributions to diet reflected preferential selection or exploitation of the more abundant prey species. Additionally, we examined how the sex ratios of ptarmigan in Gyrfalcon diet varied throughout the breeding season. We collected ptarmigan prey remains from in and around occupied Gyrfalcon nesting sites in 2017, and identified species and sex by molecular techniques. We compared proportions of the two ptarmigan species in Gyrfalcon diet to proportions of the Rock and Willow Ptarmigans' preferred habitat around Gyrfalcon nesting sites (n = 205 skeletal remains from 12 nests), and compared sex ratios of ptarmigan prey remains temporally (n = 252 skeletal remains from 12 nests). We found that prey remains were more likely to be Rock Ptarmigan when areas around Gyrfalcon sites had greater slope and higher elevation (i.e., they better matched the habitat preferences of Rock Ptarmigan), which may suggest Gyrfalcon diet tracked ptarmigan availability without preference for species. Ptarmigan remains were biased toward male birds during June, when most female ptarmigan are incubating on concealed nests. Although we recommend additional analysis of these topics, our findings further our understanding of Gyrfalcon and ptarmigan ecology as the Arctic faces rapid changes to its climate and landscape.
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Vol. 55 • No. 1