Gull Eggs for Breakfast in Hoonah

This article was originally published on NPS.gov on October 25, 2017, posted by Tania Lewis, Ashley Stanek, Darlene See, Mary Beth Moss of NPS.

Glaucous-winged gulls in nesting area on Geikie Island, Glacier Bay (Source: A. Stanek/NPS Photos).

As part of recent efforts to reinvigorate cultural activities within Glacier Bay National Park in Alaska, the National Park Service (NPS) and Hoonah Indian Association (HIA) have collaborated on various programs, including restoring a traditional Glaucous-winged gull egg harvest in the park.

While the NPS develops regulations to allow legal harvest of gull eggs, park managers and HIA are collaborating through a series of experimental egg harvests to determine best-practices and potential impacts of a harvest on gulls and other nesting birds, while at the same time providing eggs to community members in Hoonah.

In early June 2017, HIA tribal members conducted the second experimental glaucous-winged gull egg harvest in the park. The research aim was to determine whether egg quality, as determined by people consuming the eggs, varies depending on the number of eggs present in a nest. Glaucous-winged gulls typically lay three eggs over the course of five days and begin incubating once the clutch is complete. Eggs do not begin to develop into chicks until incubation begins. For this reason, eggs from three-egg nests may be further developed than eggs from nests with one or two eggs, and the desirability of these developing eggs may be questionable.

Ashley Stanek collects nest information on a GPS while Randy Roberts marks eggs from a 3-egg nest and Darlene See photographs the nest (Source: T. Lewis/NPS photo).

On June 2, 2017, three HIA tribal members and the NPS wildlife biologist and technician visited gull colonies at Geikie Rock and Boulder Islet to collect gull eggs and information on nesting seabirds. Glaucous-winged gull nests are typically identified by their neat nest bowl made of dried grass and moss, which can be located anywhere from bare rock to hidden in tall grass above the tide zone.

As nests were found, biologists recorded information on nest location and number of eggs, and harvesters collected eggs into moss-filled buckets for transport back to Hoonah. Eggs from the three egg nests were marked, and the recipients of the eggs were surveyed later about the edibility of marked versus unmarked eggs. Eggs were considered inedible if they were too far developed to be desirable for eating.

Harvesters reported collecting 143 eggs on the two islands. Sixty-eight of these eggs were marked as having come from three-egg nests. Eggs were distributed to 42 members of the Hoonah Indian Association who reported 117 eggs edible, 13 eggs inedible, and 13 eggs of unknown quality.

Of the 13 inedible eggs, 2 eggs were reportedly inedible due to the way they were cooked, nine were marked, and two were unmarked. Hence 13 percent of the eggs from three-egg nests were inedible compared to only 3 percent of the eggs from one-egg or two-egg nests. This information can help harvesters make decisions on nest selection to maximize edibility of eggs during future egg harvests.

HIA members Randy Roberts, Darlene See, and Ronin Ruerup collect gull eggs to distribute to the community of Hoonah (Source: T. Lewis/NPS photos).

Glaucous-winged gulls are able to replace lost eggs until the clutches are complete, as well as re-lay new clutches if all eggs are lost due to flooding, predation, or harvest; thus ensuring the persistence of gull populations.

In addition to monitoring gull nests during the egg harvest, NPS biologists also collected information on the presence of other nesting birds to understand how this human activity may impact other birds. Black Oystercatchers, Pigeon Guillemots, and Caspian Terns were observed nesting on the harvested islands, but these nests were avoided and thus impacted minimally.

The NPS and HIA will continue to collaborate by combining traditional ecological knowledge and practices with park research to ensure long-term stability of resources.

For more information, see the NPS Tlingit Gull Egg Harvest page.

GlacierHub published a post last year which discusses the historical and cultural background of gull egg harvest by Hoonah Indian Association tribal member.

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