Putting Puffins Back on the Map
Published June 16, 2014
by Ken Howell, Curator of Upland Tropical Rain Forest
Atlantic puffins live most of their lives at sea. In the spring and summer months, these sea birds leave their aquatic posts to gather in large numbers on coastal cliffs and offshore islands to reproduce.
While it’s well-understood that puffins gather in large numbers within their breeding colonies, surprisingly little is known of their life at sea or of their foraging habits when raising chicks.
In an attempt to better understand puffin foraging behavior, seabird biologist Dr. Marie Martin of NOAA’s Woods Hole Laboratory visited the National Aquarium recently to test several GPS units on our puffins.
GPS tagging is often used to study and track various species in their natural habitats without being intrusive. Recent advances in GPS technology have provided tags small enough to be used on these birds.
Working with aquarium aviculturists, optimal tag placement sites and attachment methods were investigated. Using these techniques, Dr. Martin will travel to Maine this summer to tag puffins with identical GPS units for deployment into the Gulf of Maine. Information gathered from this project will allow scientists to better understand puffin diets and the relationship between climate change, recent shifts in food fish populations, and declining productivity at several colonies.
Dr. Martin’s work is in collaboration with the National Audubon Society’s Project Puffin, which works to understand the species and help reestablish historic breeding colonies on several offshore islands in Maine.
For more information on Project Puffin and how you can help support Atlantic puffin conservation, click here.