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Location Russia (Asian), Kamchatka
Central coordinates 166o 52.63' East  54o 54.35' North
IBA criteria A1, A4i, A4ii, A4iii
Area 3,648,680 ha
Altitude 0 - 755m
Year of IBA assessment 2004

Site description The Commanders lie in the southwestern Bering Sea 108 miles (173 km) east of the Kamchatka Peninsula (55°00' N; 166°30' E). They were named for Captain Komandor Vitus Bering who was shipwrecked and died on Bering Island in the winter of 1741. The Aleut village of Nikol'skoye and a zapovednik field station are located on Bering Island.

Key Biodiversity Among the 202 recorded bird species are endemic rock ptarmigan, rock sandpiper, ancient murrelet, winter wren and gray-crowned rosy finch. The Red Data Book of the Russian Federation lists 25 species that include Steller’s sea eagle, gyrfalcon, peregrine falcon, emperor goose, Aleutian tern and rock sandpiper. There are 19 species of colonial nesting seabirds, totaling an estimated 450,000 individuals. The most common of these are northern fulmars, murres, tufted puffins and kittiwakes. With 200,000 pairs, the northern fulmar colonies are some of the largest in the world. The Commanders are only one of five sites in the region where red-legged kittiwakes breed. Rock sandpipers and Mongolian plovers are common tundra-nesting shorebirds throughout the archipelago, with long-toed stints and red phalaropes favoring wetlands on the north side of Bering Island, fee-free offshore waters attract thousands of wintering waterfowl along with gulls, cormorants and alcids. This is the only place in Russia where emperor geese regularly winter. Gvrfalcons are also winter residents, probably because of the presence of ptarmigan, waterfowl and auklets.

Other significant wildlife: Several hundred thousand northern fur seals breed on Bering and Medniy islands, with Steller sea lions, ringed seals and sea otters inhabiting nearshore waters. Stejneger’s beaked whales, orcas and little piked whales are known to occur. An endemic race of Arctic fox is a common terrestrial predator on Medniy Island. Free-ranging reindeer occur on Bering Island. The once abundant Steller’s sea cow and spectacled cormorant were driven to extinction in the 18th century because of their vulnerability to hungry explorers and fur hunters.

Populations of IBA trigger species

Species Season Period Population estimate Quality of estimate IBA Criteria IUCN Category
Steller's Eider Polysticta stelleri winter  2004  present  A4i  Vulnerable 
Emperor Goose Anser canagicus winter  2004  present  A4i  Near Threatened 
Common Eider Somateria mollissima winter  2004  present  A4i  Near Threatened 
Northern Fulmar Fulmarus glacialis unknown  2004  present  A4ii  Least Concern 
Red-faced Cormorant Phalacrocorax urile unknown  2004  present  A4i  Least Concern 
Red-legged Kittiwake Rissa brevirostris breeding  2004  present  A1, A4i  Vulnerable 
A4iii Species group - seabirds unknown  2004  10,000 breeding pairs  unknown  A4iii   
A4iii Species group - waterbirds unknown  2004  20,000 individuals  unknown  A4iii   

Protected areas

Protected area Designation Area (ha) Relationship with IBA Overlap with IBA (ha)  
Commander Islands UNESCO-MAB Biosphere Reserve 3,648,679 is identical to site 3,648,679  
Komandorsky Zapovednik 3,648,679 is identical to site 3,648,679  


IUCN habitat Habitat detail Extent (% of site)
Coastline Sea cliffs and rocky shores  -
Grassland Edaphic grassland; Tundra  -
Sea   -

Protection status Most of the two major islands (Bering and Medniy), two smaller islands (Toporkov and Ariy Kamen) and numerous smaller islets are mostly protected within a 30-mile-wide (48 km) marine zone as a federal nature reserve. The zapovednik has been designated by United Nations Environmental Education, Scientific and Cultural Organization as an International Biosphere Reserve because of its global importance.

Acknowledgements The identification of IBAs and information collected between 1980 and 2009 provided by the IBA network of the Russian Bird Conservation Union (RBCU).

References Audubon Alaska / BirdLife Asia / RBCU (2004) Important Bird Areas of the Bering Sea ecoregion. Anchorage, USA: Audubon Alaska. 46 pp.

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Recommended citation  BirdLife International (2016) Important Bird and Biodiversity Area factsheet: Commander islands. Downloaded from on 28/10/2016

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