At Audubon we spend a lot of time talking about Atlantic Puffins, and for good reason. Our staff have spent nearly 50 years helping these colorful seabirds return to their historic breeding grounds off the coast of Maine, and studying what puffins tell us about conditions in our oceans. But puffins aren’t the only seabirds nesting on the rocky islands that our researchers monitor each summer.
Black Guillemots, Common Terns, and Razorbills are just a few other species that share these nesting grounds. Our Seabird Secrets video series explores each of these species, the threats they face, and how you can help protect them.
Today, there are 300 million fewer seabirds in the world than there were in 1950, a dramatic population decline of 70 percent. Seabirds are very sensitive to changes in the environment like warming waters, making them an important sentinel species for climate change. Here we’ll explore a few examples of the threats they face and how Audubon is working to reverse the seabird crisis.
Garbage can wash up on seabirds’ nesting grounds, putting them at risk of becoming entangled or mistaking the trash for food and ingesting it. Recently, Audubon’s Seabird Institute received a grant to clean up debris on Stratton Island in Maine, where Audubon researchers monitor nesting seabirds every summer. In just one day, our staff filled an entire dumpster with more than 2 tons of trash on the island, from old rubber duckies to lobster traps that were abandoned or lost.
Seabirds’ primary food source is small, schooling ocean fish known as forage fish, like herring or sardines. Unfortunately climate change is heating up the ocean, sending many of these small fish further offshore and deeper into the sea to find cold water. Seabirds then have to spend more and more energy to find these fish, or are altogether unable to find enough to eat or to feed their chicks. Audubon’s network of staff, chapters, and volunteers have advocated in the halls of Congress for bills like the Forage Fish Conservation Act, to make sure commercial fishing industries around the country leave plenty of fish in the sea for seabirds to eat and to feed their young.
Seabirds typically return to the same islands to nest every summer, but as sea levels rise due to climate change, seabirds’ nesting islands can flood, leaving them without an island to return to. Seabirds like to nest in large social groups, so to help them find a safe place to nest that will stay above sea-level rise in the long term, the Seabird Institute uses decoys and recorded calls to lure seabirds to nest on a particular island. Researchers then protect and monitor the birds as they lay eggs, raise and feed their chicks, and eventually leave the island at the end of the summer.
To learn more about the seabirds Audubon works to protect, visit projectpuffin.audubon.org.