Protect Our Oceans

Maine’s puffins enjoy a good summer

After a few tough years, some hopeful news for Maine's puffins


USFWS | Public Domain
Puffins off the coasts of Maine

With nicknames like “clowns of the sea” or “sea parrots,” Atlantic puffins may not be the most dignified seabird. But their cute looks and funny waddle has endeared them to bird lovers and the public alike. That’s why we’re celebrating the news that this summer saw the most successful breeding season for these New England avians in recent years.

A quick refresher on the history of the Atlantic puffin: after hunting nearly drove the birds to extinction in the early 1900s, conservation efforts to reintroduce the birds to Easter Egg Rock in the Gulf of Maine saw success. Today, the population has grown from a few dozen breeding pairs to 3,000, and they’ve set up breeding colonies on an additional three islands.

But in 2021, the number of chicks born on these islands was far too low: only one quarter of adult puffins were able to raise chicks. Scientists linked this baby-drought to a lack of small fish, such as herring and sand lance, that form the basis of the puffin’s baby food.

After that “catastrophic” year, AP reports that the past two summers have seen rebounds in the number of babies fledging, which is a sign of hope for the species’ future in the Gulf of Maine.

Still, the birds aren’t out of the woods. According to the National Audubon Society, warmer waters in the summer tends to mean less successful breeding seasons for the birds. As global warming takes hold, we’ll be likely to see hotter and hotter summer temperatures in the Gulf of Maine, which is warming faster than 97% of the world’s oceans.

To keep these endearing birds flying off our coast, we not only need to tackle climate change, we also need to protect the puffins’ favorite snacks: sand lance. This small fish can be found in abundance in Stellwagen Bank National Marine Sanctuary.

There’s more to say about our efforts to protect Stellwagen — stay tuned. For now, I’ll say this: We should better protect habitats in the Stellwagen sanctuary to keep a steady supply of these scrumptious (for puffins) fish coming.

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