[Seabird Success Story] Of the wild creatures I filmed, the face in the Atlantic puffin stands out vividly. I’m David Brown a producer and cameraman for the Cornell Lab of Ornithology Atlantic puffins nest on Maine’s Eastern Egg Rock They share the seven-acre island with Laughing gulls, Black Guillemots, and nearly fourteen hundred pairs of Common, Arctic, and endangered Roseate Terns. Dr. Steve Kress of Audubon invited sound recordist Ian Fine and I to spend two days filming and recording on the island. We had beautiful birds everywhere, but we had to focus on our primary goal: documenting Puffins for the Cornell Lab’s Museum of animal behavior. Working in those crowded breeding colonies it’s hard to believe that hunters in search of eggs, feathers, and meat stripped Eastern Egg Rock of these beautiful birds by 1887 and wiped out Terns here by 1936. This is the world’s first restored seabird colony. Dr. Kress and his team pioneered re-colonization techniques here in the 1970s using decoys to get Puffins imported from Newfoundland to breed here. Decoys were also used to attract Terns, along with audio recordings to simulate the shrieking chaos of an active Tern colony. Terns nested on Eastern Egg Rock in 1980 and five breeding Puffin pairs nested in 1981 after nearly a hundred years of absence. The methods developed here are now used worldwide to bring back lost sea bird colonies. Having field researchers on the island keeps these colonies safe from expanding populations a predatory Gulls. Only 4 to 5 of these researchers camp on Eastern Egg Rock at a time. Accommodations include small tents, an outhouse, and the Egg Rock Hilton, a solar-powered research station serving as both kitchen conference room. The camp’s placed amidst thousands of screaming Terns and the roof of the Hilton provides a great observation platform from which to watch them bring a constant supply of fish to their ravenous chicks. Researchers always leave camp as a group to reduce disturbance to the birds. They spend countless hours in blinds observing and counting birds going about the serious business of producing and raising their young. Sunrise brings a fantastic chance for us to spend time with the Puffins. These numbers painted on granite boulders mark the burrows in which these monogamous birds raise young year after year. Puffins are great swimmers, catching Sand Lance, Hake, and Herring down to 200 feet and lining them up in their bills to bring ashore for their young. They can fly in air and water with wings adapted to move in both worlds. The birds preen to keep their feathers in good condition for flying and for protection from the icy waters in which they dive. They make various social displays such as head flicking–an abrupt toss of the head accompanied by a grunting sound. Billing is a behavior that reinforces pair bonds formed and maintained over a life span of 30 years or more. Standing here thirty years ago we would have been extraordinarily lucky to sight a single native Puffin or nesting Tern. Today everyone can enjoy this remarkable restoration knowing that this hopeful story can replay wherever people are dedicated to wildlife conservation. Biologists in a dozen countries have used methods first tested here to restore more than 40 different species rare sea birds. The effort of Steve Kress and Audubon’s Project Puffin created the chance for these charismatic little birds to again be part of this ecosystem. Our opportunity this trip included a crystal clear morning with 40 Puffins surrounding us. A chance to experience a small restored piece of an older, wilder world.

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Atlantic Puffins have returned to nest at Eastern Egg Rock in Maine after decades of absence. Thanks to the work of seabird biologists from the National Audubon Society’s Project Puffin, this was the world’s first restored seabird colony. Through the use of decoys, audio recordings, and protections from predatory gulls, the project succeeded in recreating a thriving seabird colony and spreading successful restoration techniques to other sites around the globe.