puffins

Heard on KQED just moments ago, an NPR piece on puffin restoration on the Maine coast. Puffins have a special place in my household, because they were my man Jacques’s  totem animals (as penguins and woolly mammoths are mine) — from his many summers Down East, where the puffins roam.

A nice drawing of an Atlantic puffin:

(#1)

And a photo of a puffin testing its wings:

(#2)

From the NPR story (“On A Rocky Maine Island, Puffins Are Making A Tenuous Comeback” by Fred Bever, originally  8/21/13  from WBUR):

Rocky, windswept Eastern Egg Rock, about 6 miles off the coast of Maine, was once a haven for a hugely diverse bird population. But in the 1800s, fishermen decimated the birds’ ranks — for food and for feathers.

When ornithologist Stephen Kress first visited 40 years ago, the 7-acre island was nearly barren, with only grass and gulls left. Not a puffin in sight. Not even an old puffin bone.

“But it had great habitat because there were great boulders on the island, and I could imagine the puffins standing on top of them,” Kress says.

No imagination is needed now. Thanks to a relocation experiment pioneered by Kress and his co-workers in the Audubon Society’s Project Puffin, this treeless little island is now kind of a bird tornado.

In peak years, more than 200 of the orange-and black-beaked puffins nest here. Ten other bird species — including the endangered roseate tern — have been tempted into the island habitat, with an assist from handmade burrows, decoys and recorded bird calls. In nesting season, humans are posted to wave off predators such as black-backed gulls and eagles.

The problem in Maine, as in parts of the UK, comes from the warming of the ocean, which (among other things) has severely reduced the supply of the herring on which the puffin chicks — pufflings — feed.

From Wikipedia:

Puffins are any of three small species of alcids (auks) in the bird genus Fratercula [Latin ‘little brother’, from the resemblance of the plumage to monastic robes] with a brightly coloured beak during the breeding season. These are pelagic seabirds that feed primarily by diving in the water. They breed in large colonies on coastal cliffs or offshore islands, nesting in crevices among rocks or in burrows in the soil. Two species, the Tufted Puffin and Horned Puffin, are found in the North Pacific Ocean, while the Atlantic Puffin is found in the North Atlantic Ocean.

All puffin species have predominantly black or black and white plumage, a stocky build, and large beaks. They shed the colourful outer parts of their bills after the breeding season, leaving a smaller and duller beak. Their short wings are adapted for swimming with a flying technique under water. In the air, they beat their wings rapidly (up to 400 times per minute) in swift flight, often flying low over the ocean’s surface.

The Atlantic Puffin (Fratercula arctica) has a wide range in the North Atlantic:

coasts of northern Europe south to northern France, the British Isles, the Faroe Islands, Iceland, Greenland, Norway and Atlantic Canada then south to Maine

and winters south, to Morocco and New York. The species continues to thrive in Iceland.

2 Responses to “puffins”

  1. Chris Ambidge Says:

    “pufflings” = puffin chicks : one of my favourite words.

  2. Walt Slocombe Says:

    The “headquarters” of the Puffin Project on Main Street in Rockland has a collection of exhibits about puffins and the project, but Egg Rock is many miles away and accessible (even for distant viewing) on by a longish boat ride. so as a way of showing visitors (and potential contributors) what the project is all about, they have set up a TV camera on the rock and you can sit in the office and watch the puffins in “live action.” It’s actually quite fun, but nothing like actually seeing them — they look ungainly, but they fly very fast.

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