Given the dreary weather, I thought the next few weeks would be a good time to talk a bit more about some of the amazing birds that may well be best viewed in our region. Granted, quite a few species of birds come to mind, given that over 200 different species of birds actually elect to set up housekeeping in our fair province. However, at this point, it should be said that very few of these 200 or so species seem to generate quite as much interest or curiosity as the Atlantic Puffin (a.k.a. “sea parrot”, given its colourful, parrot-worthy frontal equipment). For more puffin images, feel free to check out my Puffin Album here:
Birder’s ID- the Atlantic Puffin-
If you get a good look at an Atlantic Puffin in summertime, it is rather difficult to mistake it for anything else. This species’ colourful beak, a breeding period ornament that puffins use to great effect during courtship, makes them unique in this part of the world. However, when viewed from a distance, in flight and over water, the Atlantic Puffin can certainly be confounded with a few of its alcid cousins, such as the Razorbill and the Common Murre, both of which are also found in the Bay of Fundy. These latter two are generally encountered more frequently while out and about in the Bay, except perhaps around Machias Seal Island. Both of these birds are larger and less chunky than the stubby little Puffin, although their flight pattern on long, narrow wings with rapid wing beats is similar.
Birder’s Nature Notes: Where they are-
While Atlantic Puffins are fairly widespread in the northern North Atlantic (they are even Newfoundland and Labrador’s provincial bird) there is only one spot in New Brunswick where puffins nest: Machias-Seal Island. This tiny rocky outcrop, an hour or so boat ride south of Grand Manan Island in the Bay of Fundy, is home yearly to about 5000 breeding pairs of Atlantic Puffins (fide Sea Watch Tours website). The puffins share the island with a few thousand more pairs of other nesting seabirds, including Arctic and Common Terns and Razorbill Auks (Puffins’ not quite as flashy cousin).
What they do- Atlantic Puffins are true seabirds. They spend the greater part of the year in the open ocean where they float, sleep and dive (very adeptly) for fish. In fact, puffins, along with other alcids and a few other groups of seabirds, share a very interesting fishing technique known as “wing-propelled pursuit-diving”, which is sometimes referred to as flying underwater. This enables them to catch and eat a variety of seafood, including shrimp, squid, and, in our area, especially fish such as herring and sand launce. These are captured usually less than 30 m down, but can range as deep as 60m or more! Being bonafide seabirds, puffins only come on land to nest, which happens in our neck of the woods in June, July and early August. This provides us land lubbers with a unique opportunity to observe and learn more about these amazing birds on “land” at this time of year.
How do I get out to see them?-
Fortunately, Machias-Seal Island is perhaps the best place in North America to observe Atlantic Puffins. Sea Watch Tours out of Grand Manan leads daily tours to the “puffin islands”, weather permitting of course, in July and Early August. Incidentally, they are the most experienced and consistently eco-friendly marine tours I have had the pleasure of taking in our region as well. Contact Kenda or Peter Wilcox at Sea Watch Tours at 1-877-662-8552 to book your tour to see the puffins today!