The Puffins of Machias Seal Island

from Wildlife Promise

Machias Seal Island Puffin

Machias Seal Island Puffin. NWF Photo by Shelley Cohen.

Opening the small window of the duck blind on Machias Seal Island (off the coast of Maine) to observe the puffins was exhilarating. For the next 45 minutes, I was able to unobtrusively observe puffin behavior, see their colorful markings, and hear their chain saw like nature calls. Time went by too fast. The puffins were enchanting.

Our walk to the duck blind caused the birds to take flight, but within minutes we could hear thumps and feet scurrying across the roof, and we knew that they had returned.  Slowly pushing up the small window revealed a scene that can only be compared to Hitchcock’s the birds.  They were everywhere.  The puffins were peacefully inter-mixed with an equal number of razor bill birds. Puffins are inherently social creatures and you can often see them congregating together and making greeting motions such as head rubs.

Puffins were successfully reintroduced to Machias Seal Island Maine in 1973, after the population was decimated by people who prized their feathers, meat and eggs. The island affords the bird’s safety from predators, a nearby food supply, and an ideal breeding ground among the protective rocks.  The puffins produce one egg, so keeping this egg safe is the paramount activity of the male and female puffins, who share equally in the child-rearing duties.

The duck blind on Machias Seal Island, where we viewed the puffin population.

The duck blind on Machias Seal Island, where we viewed the puffin population.

The puffins face new perils from climate impacts on their food source. Warming waters are causing smaller fish—which are appropriately sized dinners for puffin chicks—to head to cooler waters. Local scientists are studying the situation to observe and document adverse impacts to puffin populations.

The birds scurried to take flight, and I knew the next observers were walking to the duck blind. For a fleeting moment, I felt transported into the colony and my presence was accepted (tolerated) long enough to appreciate these magnificent creatures.

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About the Author

Ms. Cohen is an urban eco-mom with eighteen years of experience in environment and energy-related fields. She currently serves as a Senior Project Developer for Ameresco where she specializes in developing renewable energy and energy conservation projects, and is responsible for developing over 15MWs of renewable energy. Prior employment included jobs with EPA, the White House, and the office of Senator Joseph Lieberman (CT). Ms. Cohen’s green home includes eco-friendly materials, 12kw of solar PV, a cool roof, rain barrel, organic garden, and has been featured in local and national media. Ms. Cohen serves on the board of the National Wildlife Federation, and in 2012 was trained as a Climate Leader through the Climate Reality Project.