"When you listen to the birds, they can tell you a lot"
September 5, 2019 2:29 PM   Subscribe

One of the great conservation success stories is the reintroduction of Atlantic puffins to islands off the coast of Maine, with a record-setting number of breeding pairs reported in summer 2019. However, like all good things in life, puffins are threatened by climate change. The problem? In recent years when the water has gotten a few degrees warmer, the fish that the puffins can find to feed to their young is the wrong shape:
"Chicks need elongated fish to slurp down. Warm years increase the presence of butterfish, a species more predominant along the mid-Atlantic coast. Butterfish are too oval and wide for young chicks to swallow.

For the first time in a quarter century, the number of breeding pairs on Egg Rock dropped, from 123 pairs down to 104. Other puffin islands in the gulf were dramatically impacted. The number of breeding puffin pairs was more than halved on the national wildlife refuge of Petit Manan Island, from 104 pairs in 2009 to 47 pairs in 2013."
Among the puffin chicks that died in the summer of 2012 was Petey, star of one of the first puffin nest cams.

Scientists are now carefully watching the food that puffins bring back to study the way the planet’s climate is changing.

Meanwhile, in the Pacific, "between 3,150 and 8,500 seabirds died over a four-month period from October 2016, with hundreds of severely emaciated carcasses washed up on the beaches of the Pribilofs Islands in the southern Bering Sea, 300 miles (480km) west of the Alaskan mainland." (This was reported at the time on metafilter.)

And then there are these people (warning, pictures of dead puffins). "Trophy hunters are killing up to 100 puffins at a time during hunting trips to Iceland despite efforts to protect the endangered bird, according to animal rights activists." (Though Wikipedia would like us to know that "seabird harvesting in the Faroe Islands has been carried out sustainably for at least 300 years".)

Let's end on a warm fuzzy note: puffins have finally colonized Minnesota.

including here,
but not here.
posted by puffyn (5 comments total) 18 users marked this as a favorite
Great post, and happy second post! I'm sorry about climate change and the wrong-shaped fish.
posted by filthy light thief at 3:12 PM on September 5, 2019 [2 favorites]

Awesome post. There's my evening sorted.
posted by terrapin at 3:27 PM on September 5, 2019

someone alert puffin buffin
posted by Former Congressional Representative Lenny Lemming at 7:40 PM on September 5, 2019 [5 favorites]

Ugh, my friend was doing some of this field work and their seasonal job was cut because the baby birds were dead. Talk about depressing. Meanwhile, down here in Louisiana, people living and suing and struggling in the shadow of the petrochemical plants causing the puffins to lose food are passing away left and right.

Bearing witness to the loss of a livable planet is very haunting.
posted by eustatic at 9:29 PM on September 5, 2019 [10 favorites]

Seeing Puffins on Skomer island in Wales is one of my life highlights. They walk around like little men and are unafraid of humans, so they will waddle right up to you and observe you for a bit. Beautiful creatures.

Some good news: Puffin numbers on Skomer are booming. Since they are falling elsewhere there are research efforts to find out what Skomer is doing right.
posted by vacapinta at 1:42 AM on September 6, 2019 [3 favorites]

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