Bringing Back the Puffins

Atlantic puffins once nested up and down the coast of Maine, but hunting and egg-collecting reduced their numbers to, well, hardly any. Puffins instead nested in Canada. That is, until one guy decided he could bring some of them back to the U.S.

In 1969, a young biologist and birding enthusiast named Stephen Kress moved to Maine to teach at the Hog Island Audubon Camp on the coast. He learned that puffins had once been common on the coastal islands but had been hunted relentlessly. By 1901, a single pair was left in the state, and only a few pairs had been seen since. Unlike many people in Maine at the time, Kress had a visceral sense of what had been lost: He had recently worked in eastern Canada, which has some of the largest puffin colonies in the world. He started to wonder if Atlantic puffin chicks could be transplanted from Canada to Maine and used to re-establish the population south of the border.

More experienced seabird biologists shook their heads. Puffins, like many seabirds, return to their natal islands to breed. If puffin chicks were transplanted to new islands, they wouldn’t breed there; they would simply head back to the islands where they’d been born. The biologists said Kress’ notion was an idealistic waste of time or, worse, an arrogant effort to manipulate nature.

So Kress was not only motivated by a desire to see the puffins return, he also was inspired to prove the experts wrong. It took years of work and changing tactics, but the puffins eventually returned to Maine. Read about how Kress and his colleagues achieved their goal at Slate. Link -via Not Exactly Rocket Science

(Image credit: Flickr user Martha de Jong-Lantink)

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