Bird enthusiasts are celebrating the arrival of a puffin chick who hatched just days ago and has since captivated viewers who are getting a glimpse of its first few days of life thanks to a camera that was set up in a puffin burrow on Seal Island off the coast of Maine.
Thanks to the National Audubon Society’s Project Puffin and Explore.org, we can watch this fluffy little puffling being raised by its parents, Phoebe and Finn, who will share parenting duties until this little one is ready to take off on its own. According to Project Puffin, this little newcomer has been dubbed Pal by fans who’ve been watching because Puffins Are Love, and because they were hoping for a friend for a chick who was born last year they had named Hope. The big event was recorded for those of us who missed it.
Considering all the effort that has gone into helping Atlantic puffins recover in Maine over the last 40 years, the arrival of a new chick is especially exciting.
These puffins were once abundant off the coast, but were overhunted for food, eggs and feathers and had essentially disappeared by 1900. In 1973, Dr. Stephen Kress, the founder and director of Project Puffin, set out to help them make a comeback by relocating chicks from Newfoundland to Eastern Egg Rock, hoping that they would eventually return to breed where they hatched.
The first puffin chicks returned the summer of 1977. According to Project Puffin, as of last year, there were an estimated 1,000 pairs of puffins nesting on five Maine islands.
Still, as Care2′s Beth Buczynski noted in an article earlier this month, the plight to save Atlantic puffins from disappearing is far from over. Because they only lay one egg each year and don’t typically breed until they’re five years old, they remain vulnerable.
Even though efforts to help them recolonize parts of Maine have been successful, they’re now facing a food crisis as a result of climate change, which is affecting two staple fish they need to feed their young: hake and herring.
With the shortage, puffin parents have been catching and trying to feed butterfish to their babies, but the fish are too big for them to eat, which has resulted in many babies starving to death. Researchers noticed the problem in 2012, when the percent of puffins raising a chick on Seal Island dropped by more than half down to 30 percent. Numbers for 2013 weren’t any better, with only one pair out of 10 successfully raising a chick.
The potential for further increases in ocean temperatures, ocean acidification and a rise in sea level, which could flood their island homes, have also raised concerns about their future survival.
In a recent interview, Dr. Kress said it’s too early to tell how these puffins are doing this year, but they should have a better idea by mid-July.
In the meantime, Project Puffin is asking people who tune in to the puffin burrow cam to help researchers see what kinds of fish the parents are bringing back to help them track what this pair is doing and to take and post snapshots of the parents feeding Pal.
Photo credit: Thinkstock
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