Concerns rise again for Maine’s Razorbill and Atlantic Puffin

7/9/2014 | 0

Atlantic Puffins and a Razorbill at Maine Coastal Islands National Wildlife Refuge Complex, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

Atlantic Puffins and a Razorbill at Maine Coastal Islands National Wildlife Refuge Complex, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

Editor Chuck Hagner saw both puffins and Razorbills while birding along the Maine coast aboard the historic schooner Lewis R. French in the summer of 2013, a trip he describes in our August 2014 issue.

Read “Seabirds by Sail,” by Editor Chuck Hagner.

He writes that recent events have made the birds the subjects of renewed conservation concern:

The first occurred in the summer of 2012, when only about a third of the puffin pairs on Seal Island fledged a chick. Usually, 77 percent do.

Then, at the beginning of 2013, thousands of Razorbills showed up south of their winter range, some as far away as the Florida Keys. On their return trip to Maine, in February and March, hundreds washed up dead on Cape Cod.

The out-of-range Razorbills were one of our 42 most important stories of 2013.

At Seal and nearby Matinicus Rock, researchers with Project Puffin counted a third fewer nests in 2013 than in 2012, while at Machias Seal Island, the largest puffin colony in the Gulf of Maine, only 15 percent of pairs produced a fledgling. The researchers speculate that many birds simply took the year off.

Rising ocean temperatures are to blame, says Project Puffin. Warmer water causes white hake, Atlantic herring, and other fish to move either northward or to deeper, colder water, thus making the puffin’s most important forage fish less available.

The only good news in 2013 came from puffins on Eastern Egg Rock, the southernmost colony in Maine. The number of pairs there increased from 104 to 111, and most fledged chicks. Unlike puffins at other colonies, scientists say, the Egg Rock birds not only found ample hake and herring but supplemented their diet with redfish, a species that isn’t shifting its range northward or into deeper water.

We’ll be watching for news about the birds’ breeding success this year. We’ll share the results here as soon as we get them.

A version of this article appeared in our August 2014 issue. See the contents of the issueSubscribe.

Atlantic Puffin is one of the 10 birds our readers told us they most want to see.