How Fake Birds Helped Restore Maine’s Puffin Colonies

In the late 1800’s many puffins in the state of Maine were hunted, and the population of puffins decreased. Maine’s islands were the homes of many puffins, and this let hunters kill freely. Hunters hunted puffins for their eggs, feathers, and meat. These puffins that were hunted were called the Atlantic puffins. Atlantic puffins are the smallest of all the puffins. They have distinct steel-blue triangles at the base of their beaks, which makes them different from other types of puffins. The Puffins are about 10 inches tall and weigh around 500 grams. An Atlantic puffins diet consists mainly of small fish like sand eels and herring, but they eat crustaceans in the winter. Even though all puffins usually eat fish, their diets change from colony to colony. Atlantic Puffins can dive for up to one minute though they typically go in for only 20 to 30 seconds. They can also dive up to 100 miles deep and fly up to 55 miles per hour. Even though Atlantic Puffins are not endangered, they are threatened by human activity, like hunting.


In 1973, an environmentalist and ornithologist named Stephen Kress wanted to restore the puffin colonies on Maine’s islands. Stephen Kress has been interested in puffins for 50 years now. When he first encountered these birds in Canada, he was so interested in them; he spent the rest of his life helping them. He said he loved the red-tipped beaks and expressive faces of these sea birds. Kress learned a lot about them and started teaching about them in nature camps. Two years later, Stephen went to Maine to teach in one of these nature camps, when he learned that there once were many puffins on the islands of Maine but that they died out because of hunting in the 19th century. Kress wanted to help bring them back, and so he created Project Puffin. He was working for the National Audubon Society at the time, and this was a useful contribution.


The seven-acre island named Eastern Egg Rock was in perfect condition for a puffin colony and was where Project Puffin started. The tiny island had protection from predators and had a border of granite boulders, ideal for puffin nests. Kress got a team together to get pufflings from Newfoundland, Canada, where there was a huge population of puffins. The pufflings were cared for by humans for about six weeks in the artificial burrows that were built for them. Kress thought that the sea birds would make a mental map of the island and come back for breeding every year. This, however, did not happen, and for four years, the island was empty. At this point, many supporters lost hope, but Kress kept working. He thought like a puffin and remembered that puffins are very social creatures. Kress thought making Eastern Egg Rock look like a home to many puffins other puffins will come back. He created artificial puffins and set up burrows around the island, and in less than a few days, puffins came ashore. During the breeding season, many puffins come to Eastern Egg Rock Island and still do today. Even though Stephen Kress retired from Project Puffin in 2019, it is still going on today, and puffin numbers are increasing all over the world.