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Puffin Watching

The islands along Maine's coastline is the only place in the USA which Atlantic puffins may call their summer home


Last updated: by Eleonora Provozin
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It's quite a bliss to have Atlantic Puffins in New England, even though only in the summer season. Thousands of puffins come to breed on the islands of Maine's coast. About 1,000 nesting pairs settle on Maine islands, while 5,000 choose Machias Seal Island. The latter is located on the border between the Gulf of Maine and Bay of Fundy; hence its territory is claimed by the US and Canada. Puffins' favorites among the Maine islands include Eastern Egg Rock, Matinicus Rock, Petit Manan Island, and Seal Island. The first puffins start arriving in April, and the last leave with the full-grown chicks in late August, but the most rewarding months are June and July. Then you'll observe the largest congregations of these cute birds.

The distant Maсhias Seal Island boasts the greatest puffin population and is the only island where you can watch the birds from the shore which allows getting closest to them. If you choose other destinations, it will be reasonable to bring binoculars along. Tours to Machias Seal Island depart from Cutler. The long drive to the border is worth it, not only for the prime puffin watching but also for the Bold Coast Scenic Byway.

One of the most popular puffin destinations is Eastern Egg Rock, set 6 miles (10 km) from the shore. The small and scenic island is mostly rock, 7 acres (3 ha) in size. Therefore, puffins have nowhere to hide from curious watchers. Along with the birds, one may spot seals and bald eagles. The tours to Eastern Egg Rock depart from New Harbor in the town of Bristol, Boothbay Harbor, and Port Clyde.

Matinicus Rock is set 23 miles (37 km) off the coast from Rockland. Owing to its remoteness, it doesn't have regularly scheduled cruises. But in Rockland, one can rent a boat for a private tour.

Petit Manan Island is another place to encounter puffins. This is also famous for its iconic lighthouse. Puffin watching cruises run from Bar Harbor and Milbridge.

Seal Island National Wildlife Refuge with the surface of 65 acres (26 ha) is home to the largest puffin population in the state itself. The island is located nearly 22 miles (35 km) off the coast, and the tours depart from Stonington.

The history of puffins on Maine islands is complicated. In the past, these birds populated the coastal areas of Maine, but by the early 1900s, there were no puffins spotted on the islands besides a single pair of puffins on Matinicus Rock. After the implementation of the 1918 Migratory Bird Treaty Act, which banned the killing of wild birds in the US, puffins slowly returned to Matinicur Rock. But not to the rest of the islands. Today's population owes to the Project Puffin launched in 1973 by the National Audubon Society. To revive the population, they transplanted puffins from Newfoundland.

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