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Home » After a Local weather Catastrophe Final Yr, Maine’s Seabirds Get a Reprieve

After a Local weather Catastrophe Final Yr, Maine’s Seabirds Get a Reprieve


This 12 months, twice as many seabird chicks survived the summer time and fledged from their nests alongside the coast of Maine in comparison with final 12 months. This thrilling success price is way nearer to what’s thought-about regular for Maine’s seabird colonies, following a steep decline final 12 months as local weather change dealt a blow to nesting birds like Atlantic Puffins and Widespread Terns.

The welcome information comes from the Gulf of Maine Seabird Working Group, a gaggle of scientists from Audubon’s Seabird Institute, state and federal wildlife businesses, and different conservation teams that monitor and defend seabirds from Massachusetts to Canada. 

Yearly, Audubon’s Seabird Institute hires a number of crews of seasonal researchers to observe nesting seabirds on seven distant islands off the coast of Maine. These intrepid scientists dwell for months on these undeveloped islands with out energy or working water, all to allow them to document the birds’ each transfer—what number of eggs they lay, the kind of fish they carry in to feed their chicks, what number of survive from one 12 months to the following, and extra.

What these researchers are studying is essential to Audubon’s work to guard seabirds and the locations—and fish—they should survive. Seabirds depend on small, education fish often called forage fish to eat and to feed their rising chicks. However child seabirds can’t eat simply any fish. Hake, herring, haddock, and sand lance are all splendid meals for them as a result of they’re nutritious and simply the proper measurement—lengthy and thin, straightforward for a younger puffling to get down in a single gulp.

Nonetheless, local weather change is making these favourite fish onerous to return by round seabird nesting islands. The Gulf of Maine is warming sooner than 99 p.c of the world’s oceans, and 2021 noticed the warmest common floor water temperatures ever recorded there. These warming waters are driving forage fish additional offshore and deeper within the ocean to search out their most well-liked chilly water, oftentimes placing them out of attain of drained seabird mother and father who have to feed their hungry chicks.

This spelled catastrophe for seabirds final 12 months. Atlantic Puffin mother and father determined to feed their chicks usually introduced again butterfish, a mid-Atlantic species extra prevalent when the Gulf of Maine heats up. That oval fish is just too large for small chicks to swallow. That very same summer time, an early-season tropical storm handed by way of the world. Sadly, many seabird chicks died from hunger or hypothermia. The variety of puffin chicks that lived lengthy sufficient to fledge from their nests final 12 months was sadly reduce in half.

The Atlantic saury on this puffin’s beak is so long as the puffin is tall. Regardless of its size, this fish continues to be slender sufficient for a puffin or tern chick to swallow. Picture: Derrick Z. Jackson

This 12 months, nonetheless, was a welcome change. Derrick Z. Jackson, a journalist, co-author of The Puffin Plan, and pictures teacher for Hog Island Audubon Camp, visited a number of seabird nesting islands this 12 months and described what he noticed as a “breeding bonanza,” with no scarcity of nutritious fish accessible. That included the spectacular sight of many puffins and terns getting back from the ocean with foot-long Atlantic saury dangling from their beaks. Undertaking Puffin founder Steve Kress just lately informed Jackson for the Maine Monitor that the saury, slender sufficient for chicks to nonetheless eat, was “the shock for this 12 months,” reinforcing how adaptable seabirds are to no matter meals is accessible.

Based mostly on reviews from the Gulf of Maine Seabird Working Group, it’s doable that the variety of breeding pairs of widespread terns within the area has surged from 27,500 in 2019 to about 30,000. Japanese Egg Rock, the island the place Undertaking Puffin started, noticed the best variety of Widespread Tern nests in 20 years, and the variety of energetic puffin burrows surged again to almost pre-heatwave ranges.

“It’s as if the birds got here again with a vengeance,” Pond Island Supervisor Dallas Jordan stated. Final 12 months, Pond was one of many hardest-hit islands within the Gulf of Maine, as half of the terns deserted the island when a Nice Horned Owl and a Peregrine Falcon descended to gobble up birds. This summer time the colony rebounded from 700 Widespread Tern nests to a document 1,580.  

A tern, a white and gray seabird with a black cap and a bright orange beak and feet, feeds a fish to its chick from its beak.
Widespread Terns. Picture: Derrick Z. Jackson

“You possibly can’t overstate what that every one means,” Jordan stated. “It’s superb to see the birds come again. However while you have a look at the large image, we’ve entered a cycle the place the birds can’t depend on something anymore. They’ve advanced for hundreds of years to be accustomed to dependable websites. They’re long-lived birds, to allow them to deal with a foul 12 months right here and there. The query is what occurs with extra dangerous years.”

2022 was not with out its dramas. Avian flu, which took out hundreds of seabirds in colonies in Europe and Canada, was found on a number of nesting islands in Maine this 12 months. Due to the tireless work of our researchers, the variety of birds misplaced to the illness was minimal.

This work started almost 50 years in the past, when Steve Kress, then an ornithology teacher at Hog Island Audubon Camp, got down to restore Atlantic Puffins to Maine after that they had just about disappeared because of looking and egg poaching within the late 19th century. Starting in 1973, he and colleagues introduced puffin chicks from Newfoundland greater than 800 miles away to Japanese Egg Rock in Maine. They fed them till they fledged, flying off into the Atlantic Ocean. Kress hoped that years later, when puffins search islands to breed, they might decide Japanese Egg Rock as an alternative of Newfoundland. To draw the birds, his staff arrange decoys and mirrors to provide the birds the phantasm of a well-established nesting island. Undertaking Puffin succeeded—the birds returned and commenced breeding in 1981. At the moment, there are 1,300 pairs of Atlantic Puffins within the Gulf of Maine, fueling a busy coastal economic system and cultural identification for the state. Final 12 months, 20,000 folks circled Japanese Egg Rock on tour boats for a glimpse of those charismatic birds.

This 12 months, the analysis staff on Matinicus Rock was delighted to search out an inspiring image of that Undertaking Puffin legacy up shut. One of many grownup puffins elevating a chick on that island this 12 months was recognized, because of the band on its leg, as a 33-year-old chicken—older than every of the researchers themselves. The truth is, that very chicken was one of many authentic puffin chicks relocated from Newfoundland to Maine in 1989 by Steve Kress.

Whereas the profitable breeding numbers this 12 months doesn’t foretell what future years will appear like, it’s a welcome second of hope for our researchers. Their work to guard and maintain these important nesting islands helps to mitigate the consequences of local weather change, not less than in the intervening time.

“It symbolizes that we’re not but on the level of no return,” stated Petit Manan Island Supervisor Hallie Daly. “We’ve had a lot doom and gloom that nothing may be finished and that is proof that it might probably.”


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