Maine’s puffin colonies recovering within the face of local weather change

Surroundings

The puffins — also referred to as “clowns of the ocean” or “sea parrots” — nest in burrows and feed their chicks small fish equivalent to herring.

An Atlantic puffin brings a beak full of baitfish to feed its chick in a burrow under rocks on Eastern Egg Rock.
An Atlantic puffin brings a beak filled with baitfish to feed its chick in a burrow underneath rocks on Jap Egg Rock, a small island off mid-coast Maine, Sunday, Aug. 5, 2023. AP Picture/Robert F. Bukaty

EASTERN EGG ROCK, Maine (AP) — On distant islands off the Maine coast, a novel chicken held its personal this yr within the face of local weather change.

Atlantic puffins — clownish seabirds with colourful payments and waddling gaits — had their second consecutive rebound yr for fledging chicks after struggling a catastrophic 2021, mentioned scientists who monitor the birds. The information flies within the face of environmental tendencies, as scientists have mentioned warming waters off New England jeopardize the birds as a result of that reduces the form of fish they should feed their chicks.

An Atlantic puffin comes in for a landing while bringing in fish to feed its chick.
An Atlantic puffin is available in for a touchdown whereas bringing in fish to feed its chick on Jap Egg Rock, Maine, Sunday, Aug. 5, 2023. – AP Picture/Robert F. Bukaty

One fish, although — the sand lance — has remained in abundance this yr, permitting puffins to thrive, mentioned Don Lyons, director of conservation science at Nationwide Audubon Society’s Seabird Institute in Bremen, Maine. He mentioned it’s an indication the impression of local weather change on ecosystems just isn’t at all times as tidy as we predict.

The encouraging information comes because the Audubon Society is celebrating its fiftieth anniversary of tending to Maine’s puffin colonies, which it restored from just some dozen pairs. There are actually as many as 3,000 birds, and the inhabitants is secure, Lyons mentioned.

“This yr is an efficient instance of how advanced issues are. We are able to’t boil it down to 1 variable,” he mentioned. “We nonetheless have so much to be taught.”

A biologist holds a small fish.
A biologist holds a small fish dropped by an grownup puffin close to its nesting burrow on Jap Egg Rock, Maine, Sunday, Aug. 5, 2023. – AP Picture/Robert F. Bukaty

The puffins — also referred to as “clowns of the ocean” or “sea parrots” — nest in burrows and feed their chicks small fish equivalent to herring. Two years in the past, the colonies suffered one in all their worst years for replica in a long time as a result of an absence of these fish. Solely a few quarter of the birds have been in a position to increase chicks that summer time.

Audubon and different conservation teams have tied the fish scarcity to warming ocean temperatures. The Gulf of Maine, which has puffin colonies on its islands, is warming sooner than a lot of the world’s oceans, and a few latest years have been particularly heat. The early a part of this summer time seems to have been “nonetheless unusually heat,” mentioned David Reidmiller, local weather heart director at Gulf of Maine Analysis Institute in Portland, Maine.

About two-thirds of the puffins fledged chicks final yr, Lyons mentioned. The birds didn’t equal that quantity this yr, he mentioned, however they once more had a greater yr than 2021 regardless of a lower than excellent summer time of scorching, wet situations.

A puffin watch tour boat.
A puffin watch tour boat is positioned off Jap Egg Rock, Maine, Sunday, Aug. 5, 2023. – AP Picture/Robert F. Bukaty

The puffins’ capability to breed regardless of environmental adjustments speaks to the resiliency of seabirds, mentioned Invoice Sydeman, president and chief scientist of the Farallon Institute, a marine preservation group primarily based in California. Nevertheless, the long-term risks posed by local weather change — equivalent to deadly warmth waves, lack of meals, lack of islands to sea degree rise and lack of ability to breed — stay existential threats to puffins and plenty of different seabirds, he mentioned.

“The issue with local weather change is these breeding failures and low breeding productiveness years are actually turning into power,” Sydeman mentioned. “There can be fewer younger birds within the inhabitants which are in a position to recruit into the breeding inhabitants.”

Maine’s puffins are the one breeding Atlantic puffins within the U.S. Worldwide, the species lives within the North Atlantic from Maine and Canada to Europe. Different international locations with massive puffin populations, equivalent to Iceland, have seen the birds decline in quantity in latest a long time.

The Maine puffin inhabitants as soon as dwindled to solely about 70 pairs on tiny Matinicus Rock. Hunters who pursued the birds for his or her meat and feathers had practically wiped them out by the early 1900s. Stephen Kress, an Audubon ornithologist, sought to develop puffin colonies beginning within the Nineteen Seventies by relocating chicks from Canada to Jap Egg Rock, one other tiny island.

Immediately, puffins dwell on Matinicus in addition to Jap Egg Rock, Seal Island and Petit Manan Island. On a latest journey to Jap Egg Rock, situated off St. George, dozens of puffins delighted tour boats as they took off in flight and dove into the water in pursuit of fish.

An Atlantic puffin flies with baitfish.
An Atlantic puffin flies with baitfish to feed its chick on Jap Egg Rock, Maine, Sunday, Aug. 5, 2023. Scientists who monitor seabirds mentioned Atlantic puffins had their second consecutive rebound yr for fledging chicks after struggling a nasty 2021. (AP Picture/Robert F. Bukaty) – AP Picture/Robert F. Bukaty

The grownup birds within the colonies seem pretty strong, and it’s “doubtless the inhabitants is secure, and it might nonetheless be rising,” Lyons mentioned.

The results of local weather change on seabirds have been a spotlight of scientific inquiry in recent times. Curiosity within the topic has accelerated due to die-offs of a number of the puffin’s auk household kinfolk, such ascommon murres and Cassin’s auklets off the West Coast.

The challenges confronted by seabirds make profitable breeding seasons particularly vital, mentioned P. Dee Boersma, a College of Washington professor of biology and director of the college’s Heart for Ecosystem Sentinels.

“What meaning is we ought to be extra cautious and anxious about reproductive failures and issues like that to guarantee that in good years everybody that wishes to has an opportunity to breed, and do properly,” Boersma mentioned.

An Atlantic puffin chick is held by a biologist.
An Atlantic puffin chick is held by a biologist earlier than being measured and banded on Jap Egg Rock, Maine, Sunday, Aug. 5, 2023. – AP Picture/Robert F. Bukaty


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