DV-10-03 Identifying foraging habitat of breeding Atlantic puffins in Maine

National Audubon Society

Most information about Atlantic puffins comes from studies of individual colonies. Puffins leave their nesting areas to find food, and little was known about where they travel or where foraging and wintering areas are located; some studies suggested they usually stay within seven kilometers of their colony, but when food is scarce, they may travel more than 100 km. Puffins nesting on Eastern Egg Rock could overlap with an offshore wind energy test area near Monhegan, depending on how far they travel to eat.

After initial testing of tracking technology (also funded by Sea Grant in 2009), fourteen micro GPS units were taped to the backs of nesting puffins in July 2010 to gather information about foraging movements and locations. After one to four days, Scott Hall and his research team attempted to recapture the tagged puffins. One puffin was successfully recaptured in its burrow, but no data were recorded on the GPS. Only one puffin was seen feeding, otherwise, puffins with GPS were absent from burrows and colonies. Nine days after initial deployment two puffins were recaptured in burrows, both had lost their GPS units. Although these particular GPS units had been used to study diving seabirds in Alaska and Peru, Hall's experience suggests that the units or combination of unit, attachment and weight were unsuitable for puffins.

Maine Sea Grant provided $4,000 in funding for the GPS equipment. This project helped the National Audubon Society refine methods for tracking puffins, attaching smaller units to the bird's leg. In 2012, a puffin was tracked to Bermuda. Then, in 2015, more puffins were tracked to Cashes Ledge, and an area southeast of Cape Cod, where they spent the winter feeding in the rich marine waters.

The story of Maine's puffins continues. Stay tuned to this page for future updates.