Why Project Puffin Was Started
The National Audubon Society started Project Puffin
in 1973 in an effort to learn how to restore puffins to historic nesting
islands in the Gulf of Maine. At that time, literally all the puffin
eggs in Maine were in two baskets - Matinicus
Rock and Machias Seal Island. Although puffins are not an endangered
species (they are abundant in Newfoundland, Iceland, and Britain), they
are rare in Maine. The two surviving colonies were very vulnerable to
a disaster such as an oil spill, or accidental establishment of predators
such as rats or mink.
The Project began with an attempt to restore puffins
to Eastern Egg Rock in Muscongus Bay,
about six miles east of Pemaquid Point. Puffins had nested there until
about 1885 when hunters took the last survivors of this once-flourishing
colony. The restoration of puffins to Eastern Egg Rock is based on the
fact that young puffins usually return to breed on the same island where
Young puffins from Great Island, Newfoundland (where
about 160,000 pairs nest) were transplanted to Eastern Egg Rock when
they were about 10 - 14 days old. The young puffins were then reared
in artificial sod burrows for about one month. Audubon biologists placed
handfuls of vitamin-fortified fish in their burrows each day and, in
effect, took the place of parent puffins. As the young puffins reached
fledging age (the time when birds leave the nest), they received leg
bands so they could be recognized in the future. After spending their
first 2-3 years at sea, it was hoped they would return to establish a
new colony at Eastern Egg Rock rather than Great Island. Because this
was the first time an attempt had been made to restore a puffin colony,
the outcome was unknown.
Between 1973 and 1986, 954 young puffins were transplanted
from Great Island to Eastern Egg Rock and 914 of these successfully fledged.
Transplanted puffins began returning to Eastern Egg Rock in June of 1977.
To lure them ashore and encourage the birds to explore nesting habitat,
wooden puffin decoys were positioned atop large boulders. These were
readily visited by the curious young birds, which often sat with the
models and pecked at their stiff wooden beaks. The number of young puffins
slowly increased. In 1981, four pairs nested beneath boulders at the
edge of the island. The colony has since increased to 101 pairs as of
2008. Read Egg Rock Update for the latest news.
In 1984, National Audubon Society and the Canadian Wildlife
Service began a similar puffin restoration project at Seal
Island National Wildlife Refuge in outer Penobscot Bay (6 miles east
of Matinicus Rock). Hundreds of puffins once nested at this large mid-coast
Maine puffin colony, but hunting for food and feathers decimated this
colony by 1887. Between 1984 and 1989, 950 puffin chicks were transplanted
from Great Island Newfoundland, to Seal Island and 912 of these fledged.
Seven pairs returned to nest in 1992 - eight years after the project
began. The colony has rapidly increased to 336 pairs by 2006.
National Audubon biologists have also developed techniques
for managing terns and storm-petrels, species that also have declined
in recent years. Techniques such as gull and vegetation control, use
of tern decoys, and tape recordings of courtship sounds broadcast from
the islands are helping to restore colonies. These efforts are so successful,
that in recent years, Eastern Egg Rock has become the largest Maine colony
of the endangered Roseate Tern. These techniques have also helped to
protect the terns at Matinicus Rock and establish new tern colonies at
Seal Island, Stratton Island (Saco Bay), Jenny Island (Casco Bay), and
Pond Island (Kennebec River), and Outer Green Island. These methods are
also proving useful for helping endangered seabirds in the Galapagos
Islands of Ecuador (Dark-rumped Petrels), California (Common Murres)
and Japan (Short-tailed Albatross). At least 40 seabird species in 12
countries have benefited from seabird restoration techniques developed
by Project Puffin.
Restoration of seabird colonies takes years of persistent
work, since so many factors influencing success are beyond the control
of researchers. For example, young puffins must find ample food and clean
waters while avoiding predators. Unfortunately, oil spills, depleted
fish stocks, entanglement in fishing nets and predation by gulls decrease
the number of surviving birds. Considering these odds, the establishment
of new puffin and tern colonies through active management is especially
Project Puffin has a year round staff of seven which
increases to about fifty during the seabird breeding season in spring
and summer, including interns and volunteers.
Project Puffin is based in Ithaca, NY at the Cornell
Lab of Ornithology and the Todd Wildlife Sanctuary on mid-coast Maine.