A Plethora of Puffins

Natural Sciences4 MIN READ

Wonders await in the rich environment surrounding Colby’s Island Campus

Atlantic puffins swim near Eastern Egg Rock, just three miles from Colby's Island Campus in Muscongus Bay.
By Gabe SouzaPhotography by Ashley L. Conti
July 1, 2024

Just three miles from Colby’s Island Campus in Muscongus Bay, nestled on a craggy, seven-acre island, lies the world’s first restored seabird colony.

Maine’s nesting seabird populations of Atlantic puffins were diminished in the 19th century due to a combination of egg collecting, bird hunting, introduction of sheep to offshore islands, and other factors. By 1900, puffins were nearly wiped out in Maine.

The Atlantic puffin—nearly extinct by the late 1960s—is now thriving on Eastern Egg Rock at the Allan D. Cruickshank Wildlife Sanctuary.

The small island is home to or visited by more than 100 species of birds but perhaps none are as well known or documented as the puffin. The sanctuary is owned by the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries & Wildlife and managed by the National Audubon Society.

The foot-long birds, notable for their eye-catching black, orange, and yellow bills, breed from April through August. Restoration of the species began on Eastern Egg Rock in 1973, after nesting populations had been lost to overharvesting of eggs and overhunting of adults, among other pressures. By 1981 five pairs of puffins were breeding there. As of 2017, more than 170 pairs of puffins were nesting on Eastern Egg.

In the summer months the puffin can be found anywhere from northern France to the Gulf of Maine while its winter territory expands as far south as North Carolina and the Mediterranean Sea. Some studies suggest that puffins can cover nearly 5,000 miles of the ocean in a single year.

These colorful seabirds are among the natural wonders that abound in the rich marine environment surrounding the Island Campus.

Puffins perch on Eastern Egg Rock, home to the world’s first restored seabird colony.
A puffin takes off in the cold Atlantic Ocean waters near Eastern Egg Rock. The seabirds, a favorite of birdwatchers who travel long distances to spot them, spend summers on the small island near Colby’s Island Campus that is home to the world’s first restored Atlantic Puffin colony.
Atlantic puffins, with their brightly colored beaks, are an unmistakable sight. Often called the clown of the sea, the seabirds breed in burrows on islands in the North Atlantic, and spend their winters on the ocean.
Islands off the coast of Maine once welcomed hundreds of nesting pairs of Atlantic puffins, which can live to be 30 years old or more. Although the seabirds are awkward in flight, their wings become powerful, graceful underwater flippers that allow them to successfully catch small fish.