A Crazy Idea to Bring Back Atlantic Puffins Is a Success

A Crazy Idea to Bring Back Atlantic Puffins Is a Success

Ornithologist Steve Kress’s once-controversial methods are the gold standard for saving seabirds around the world.


By Bruce Barcott
Published: September-October 2013

Project Puffin researchers saw worrying signs during the 2012 breeding season. Instead of feeding their chicks juvenile white hake, adult puffins returned to their burrows with butterfish, a larger species. “We found dead puffin chicks surrounded by rotting butterfish,” says Kress. “The chicks were starving because the fish were too big to swallow whole.” Kress believes that those that did fledge may have been too weak to survive the abnormally stormy winter.

It’s not known whether the butterfish were unusually plentiful last summer, or if the juvenile white hake were late, or both. But it’s worrying. The National Marine Fisheries Service estimates that at least half of 36 commercially important North Atlantic fish species, including white hake, are moving their ranges north as a result of warming ocean waters. “If the hake is declining, that’s going to be a problem for all those species that depend on it,” says Kress.

Toward the end of our time on Egg Rock, Kress asks Post if she’s seen any sign of butterfish around the puffin burrows.

“Nothing yet,” she answers. Project managers on other islands had reported common terns and least terns—which feed their adult mates on the nest—returning with plentiful white hake.

“That’s a good sign,” says Kress.

As we bid Post farewell and make our way through the waist-high grass toward the shore, a flurry of common terns dive on Kress and peck at my overly tall skull. He shouts, “They’re getting pretty intense! That’s good. That means their chicks are about to hatch.”

On the return ride to the mainland, Kress’s thoughts turn to the phone calls and emails waiting for him back at Project Puffin’s summer office in Bremen. Kress is advising on one of the most ambitious international restoration projects, the effort to restore the critically endangered Chinese crested tern. The work is ramping up. In May greater crested tern decoys and an audio playback system were deployed on an island nature reserve in China’s Jiushan Islands. There are so few Chinese crested terns that biologists first have to attract the more numerous greater crested terns and then use their presence to lure in the endangered terns. Just as human guardians have done for three decades elsewhere across the earth, the biologists will spend the entire nesting season on the island, tipping the balance in the birds’ favor.

This story ran as “Follow the Leader” in the September-October 2013 issue.


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There were over 1,000 pairs

There were over 1,000 pairs of Puffins breeding in the Gulf of Maine before the National Audubon society famously "Brought them back". It should be acknowledged in a realistic discussion of their program that transplanted puffins added about 2% to a growing and expanding population. The significance of the use of Social attraction of seabirds on the coast of Maine by the National Audubon society has been similarly misrepresented.
From Vinalhaven you can hire a boat to take you to Seal Island to see the birds there, among them Great Cormorants the most threatened seabird population on the coast of Maine.

Check out

Check out hardyboat.com/puffin.htm !! The tours are led by members of Audubon research staff and it's a wonderful way to un-obtrusively get close to the birds. Great opportunities for photography!

Donal O'Brien gave my

Donal O'Brien gave my husband, Ken Gleason, the honor of carving the Puffins!

This was the cover story in

This was the cover story in the current issue.

Hello Puffin Fans! You can

Hello Puffin Fans!

You can visit Seal Island and look into a nesting burrow from the comfort of your own home!

Care of explore.org in conjunction with Audubon.
Loafing Ledge - where puffins, razorbills, murres and more come to hang out: http://explore.org/#!/live-cams/player/puffin-loafing-ledge-cam

Burrow Cam: http://explore.org/#!/live-cams/player/puffin-burrow-cam

The breeding season just ended and a puffling (baby puffin) that we watched emerge from the egg and grow has recently fledged. Her name is Hope and she is wonderful.

There are lots of pictures and videos on the explore site to tide us over until next spring.

I would go see them in July.

I would go see them in July. That is the best time. See: http://projectpuffin.audubon.org/puffin-watching-cruises :-)

One of my bucket list ideas

One of my bucket list ideas is to go see the Puffins, but I do not want to cause any harm and wonder when is the best time to see them and is a charter boat the best way to see them off the coast of Maine? Thank you for your response in advance.

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