The Canadian Press - ONLINE EDITION

Scientists want bird-ogling public to observe puffins eating, help with research to save them

  • Print

EASTERN EGG ROCK, Maine - Wanted: puffinologists. No experience necessary.

The Audubon Society wants bird lovers to contribute research to a project scientists hope will help save Atlantic puffins from starvation in Maine.

There are about 1,000 pairs of the seabirds, known for their multi-colored beaks and clownish appearance, in Maine. Audubon says the number of puffin fledging chicks has declined in the last two years, possibly because their key food source, herring and hake, are leaving for cooler waters. Puffins are on the state's threatened species list.

Audubon maintains three web cameras on Seal Island, a National Wildlife Refuge in outer Penobscot Bay, 22 miles off Rockland and one of the key puffin habitats in Maine. Volunteers are being asked to watch the puffins feed and answer questions about their feeding behaviour, said Steve Kress, director of the National Audubon Society's seabird restoration program.

From 2007-2011, Kress said that 77 per cent of puffin pairs on Seal Island produced fledglings, or birds that are able to fly. The number declined to 31 per cent in 2012 and 10 per cent in 2013 and while 2014 "appears to be better," he said, it's too early to tell.

"This is a citizen science project, hoping to advance the science as well as entertain the viewers," Kress said. "There are some questions that can be better answered through lots of people viewing."

Almost all of Maine's puffin population nests on three islands — Matinicus Rock, Eastern Egg Rock, and Seal Island. Kress and others believe the decline in fledged puffin chicks is tied to rising water temperatures in the Gulf of Maine.

The puffins are left to try to eat butterfish, a species more available as herring and hake7/8 — key food species for puffins — seek colder waters, Kress said. Scientists say surface temperatures of the waters in the Gulf of Maine have increased slightly each year since 1982, but the pace increased after 2004.

With fewer herring and hake, puffins have been giving their young butterfish but those fish are too big for puffin chicks to eat, and many of the birds starve and die. That's what happened to Petey, the puffin chick the 2012 camera focused on.

Two of Audubon's cameras focus on the rocky areas where puffins roost. Another is inside a burrow, providing a close-up view of a fuzzy puffin chick.

Last year's featured puffin chick, Hope, survived. This year's chick, Pal, hatched around June 25.

Audubon is asking web camera watchers to observe Pal and answer a survey about what kind of fish his parents feed him, including how many and when. The web cameras have attracted more than 4 million views since 2012, and more than 1,000 people have completed Audubon surveys.

Explore.org, a Los Angeles-based non-profit group that runs dozens of wildlife web cameras around the world, installed the cameras and is partnering with Audubon. Explore.org founder Charles Annenberg said the project is about "making science fun again."

Kress said the information gathered by puffin watchers will be included in published papers. The goal is to document how much food it takes for puffin chicks to fledge, he said.

Puffins, which spend most of their lives at sea, breed in the spring before returning to the ocean in early August. The chicks go to sea after their parents feed them for about 40 days.

___

Online:

Puffin cam: http://explore.org/live-cams/player/puffin-burrow-cam

Fact Check

Fact Check

Have you found an error, or know of something we’ve missed in one of our stories?
Please use the form below and let us know.

* Required
  • Please post the headline of the story or the title of the video with the error.

  • Please post exactly what was wrong with the story.

  • Please indicate your source for the correct information.

  • Yes

    No

  • This will only be used to contact you if we have a question about your submission, it will not be used to identify you or be published.

  • Cancel

Having problems with the form?

Contact Us Directly
  • Print

You can comment on most stories on winnipegfreepress.com. You can also agree or disagree with other comments. All you need to do is be a Winnipeg Free Press print or e-edition subscriber to join the conversation and give your feedback.

You can comment on most stories on winnipegfreepress.com. You can also agree or disagree with other comments. All you need to do is be a Winnipeg Free Press print or e-edition subscriber to join the conversation and give your feedback.

Have Your Say

New to commenting? Check out our Frequently Asked Questions.

Have Your Say

Comments are open to Winnipeg Free Press print or e-edition subscribers only. why?

Have Your Say

Comments are open to Winnipeg Free Press Subscribers only. why?

The Winnipeg Free Press does not necessarily endorse any of the views posted. By submitting your comment, you agree to our Terms and Conditions. These terms were revised effective April 16, 2010.

letters

Make text: Larger | Smaller

LATEST VIDEO

One in hospital following Ellice crash

View more like this

Photo Store Gallery

  • JOE.BRYKSA@FREEPRESS.MB.CA Local-(Standup photo)- Humming Around- A female ruby -throated hummingbird fly's through the bee bomb  flowers Friday at the Assiniboine Park English Garden- Nectar from flowers are their main source of food. Hummingbirds wings can beat as fast as 75x times second. Better get a glimpse of them soon the birds fly far south for the winter - from Mexico to South America- JOE BRYKSA/WINNIPEG FREE PRESS- Sept 10, 2009
  • Hay bales sit under a rainbow just west of Winnipeg Saturday, September 3, 2011.(John Woods/Winnipeg Free Press)

View More Gallery Photos

Poll

Do you think the Jets' three pre-season losses in a row are a sign of things to come?

View Results

View Related Story

Ads by Google