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Atlantic Puffins

Atlantic Puffins
Common Murres

Atlantic Puffins come ashore to breed in late April and begin returning to the sea in August. Some linger into September, but the fruitful season for visitation is only about a dozen weeks long. Tours begin at the end of May and usually finish for the season in mid August.

Puffins are truly pelagic. When fledged, young puffins will not return to land until they are mature enough to breed about five years later. Once they leave their islands, all the puffins disperse across the ocean and are seldom seen, even from boats. Puffins are rarely seen from the mainland.

Puffins are abundant from Newfoundland to Iceland to Scotland, spanning the cold regions of the North Atlantic. Maine is historically the southern edge of their breeding range. A century ago, puffins were nearly eliminated from the state as the colorful birds were prized for their feathers and their eggs were gathered for the dinner table. In 1973, the Puffin Project was established in an attempt to bring them back to their historical range. Although the project has been a resounding success, major threats still remain. Open air dumps in the 1900s caused an overpopulation of gulls, which competed for space on nesting islands and they often preyed upon puffin chicks. Gulls remain a significant obstacle. Food resources are also in great peril. Overfishing and the elimination of spawning habitat has greatly diminished herring and other small fish species relied upon by the puffins.

Puffins are members of the alcidae family. Other alcids on the east coast include Razorbills, Black Guillemots, Common Murres, Thick-billed Murres, and Dovekies. The latter two species do not nest in Maine but are seen in Maine waters in winter. Razorbills nest on four of the puffin islands, as well as a couple of other islands in downeast Maine. Common Murres frequent puffin colonies and nesting may occur on the northernmost of the five puffin colonies. Black Guillemots are the only alcid to nest along mainland cliffs and are readily seen from shore along the entire coastline.

Puffin coloniesThere are five Atlantic Puffin colonies along the Maine coast. Three are frequently visited, two are sporadically visited. Only one allows visitors to land. Each has a unique mix of other prized species that birders often hope to find in Maine, including Great Cormorants and the endangered Roseate Tern. When planning a puffin trip, it is best to get to know each of the islands and select the adventure that most suits travel plans.

Eastern Egg Rock
Matinicus Rock/Seal Island
Petit Manan
Machias Seal Island

Flying Puffin      Flying Puffins
Boreal chickadee

Boreal Species are also much sought after in Maine. Birds of the northern forest are present in most other states that border Canada, but no state can compete with Maine's ocean.

Maine is home to Black-backed and American Three-toed Woodpeckers, Spruce Grouse, Gray Jays, Boreal Chickadees, and an assortment of northern warblers and finches that rely on spruce/fir forests.

A birding excursion that hopes to find ocean birds and boreal birds requires thought, as these species are seldom co-located. For proper trip planning, see Boreal Species.