Partners for Puffins

Partners for Puffins

Michele Berger
Published: 11/04/2011

Photo: US Fish and Wildlife

Who doesn’t love puffins, those adorable orange-billed auks that breed on land and winter on the water? Those pigeon-sized clown doppelgangers that can live well into their 30s (and one of Birding the Net’s collectable species).

Thanks to one Audubon effort, Project Puffin, these birds will haunt Eastern Egg Rock Island—a seven-acre spot off of Maine’s coast—for years to come. In the Nov-Dec 2011 issue of Audubon, we profile one component of the 38-year-old program, Adopt a Puffin. People who adopt receive biological stats about their bird, info like age, mate and nesting spot, along with an updated pic by photographer Sandy Flint.

Flint has been involved with Adopt a Puffin for four years, annually taking pictures of each adoptee puffin. (Check out a slide show of some of these cuties here. Click on the righthand arrow to advance the slides.) “We try to send a fresh photograph of particular birds every year. My job is to go out and get particular birds. Not just any bird or any picture, but a bird in the best light that we can get,” he says. “That’s not typically an easy task.”

The 74-year-old spends a couple weeks each summer, camping out with researchers on Eastern Egg Rock, trying to find birds for his avian photo shoot. “Sunrise on the island…I’m out there every morning for it. Usually I’m out long before the researchers because I get settled before it gets light. First light is when the birds start moving.”

Sometimes individual puffins don’t cooperate. Or weather and elements get in the way. But Flint usually leaves the island having successfully shot most of the puffins he needs. “He goes up to the island and sits by the burrows until he gets a good photograph of the puffins. Sometimes this takes weeks,” says Steve Kress, Audubon’s vice president of bird conservation and Project Puffin’s director. “He’s a grand fellow and he’s been a huge help.”

Atlantic puffin
Scientific name: Fratercula arctica
Look: These birds are the size of pigeons, with black-and-white bodies, orange legs, and multi-colored bills.
Range and habitat: These auks breed along the Atlantic coast, then winter at sea—the only puffin species in this area. The three other puffin species occur only in the Pacific.
Status: Right now, the global population is almost 6 million individuals, with about 400,000 breeding pairs in North America.
For more information: Visit Project Puffin or the species page of Cornell Lab of Ornithology