Commander Islands

Country/territory: Russia (Asian)

IBA criteria met: A1, A4i, A4ii, A4iii (2016)
For more information about IBA criteria, please click here

Area: 3,648,680 ha

Site description (baseline)
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.

The map polygon is provided courtesy of the Spatial Database on Important Bird Areas of Russia 2014 (© Russian Bird Conservation Union, © Transparent World).

Recommended citation
BirdLife International (2023) Important Bird Area factsheet: Commander Islands. Downloaded from on 01/06/2023.