Project Puffin: Restoring Bird Diversity to the Coast of Maine

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Since no puffins lived on Eastern Egg Rock, Kress built lifelike decoys and used sound effects—more important in the case of the terns than for the puffins—to create the appearance of a colony. The decoys lure the first birds, who, in turn, lure more.

The method has become known as "social attraction," a phrase coined by Kress, and has since been used successfully in many other reintroduction projects: murres in California, short-tailed albatross on Midway Island, dark-rumped petrels in the Galápagos.

Kress brought the first six pufflings down from Great Island, Newfoundland, in 1973, transporting them in a day and raising them in makeshift sod burrows. "We just had to invent the techniques as we went and hope that it would work," he says.

Over the next 13 years, Kress brought some 950 more chicks down, 95 percent of which successfully fledged. It wasn't until 1977, however, that the first adult puffins began to return to Eastern Egg Rock.

And this year marked the 20th anniversary of the first recorded puffin feeding on the island—the hoped-for sign that the project was working.

Just bringing the birds back, though, isn't necessarily enough to keep them there, and Kress acknowledges that this is a program with no end in sight. The most recent management issue is the gulls.

If Project Puffin were to stop working on Egg Rock today, Kress says, the gulls would take over the island in a few years, displacing first the terns, then the puffins.

To keep the project going, he relies on private funding. The "Adopt-a-Puffin" program he developed even pairs donors with individual birds, providing photographs, statistics, and updates on the birds every year.

Puffins, while threatened in Maine, are not an endangered species, but Kress sees purpose in the project beyond just restoring the birds to their original habitat.

Some 10 percent of the world's seabirds are threatened or endangered, including roseate terns, and the Audubon Society's efforts in the Gulf of Maine serve as a model for helping these species. In addition, says Kress, the birds serve as indicators for the abundance of fish and the health of the ocean.

"As long as they're doing well, we can have some confidence that the environment is doing well," he says.

Copyright 2001 The Christian Science Monitor

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