Best time to travel to Maine

Puffin Watching in Maine

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

Best time: June–July

Puffin Watching
Puffin Watching
Puffin Watching
Puffin Watching
Puffin Watching
Puffin Watching
Puffin Watching

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.

Practical info

What is the recommended period to witness puffins in Maine?

Visiting Maine from late April till late August is the best time for puffin watching. The months of June and July reward the visitors most with the largest congregations of puffins realized. During these months, travelers can observe puffins while breeding and feeding their chicks. Planning the visit is crucial as puffins are migratory birds that have a brief breeding period at the islands. Show more

Which island has the highest puffin population in Maine?

Machias Seal Island presents the largest puffin population in Maine with about 5,000 nesting pairs. On this island, tourists can observe the birds from the shore, standing closest to them. The island is remote and is quite some distance from the shore. Seal Island National Wildlife Refuge is another great location as it offers a home to almost 1,000 nesting pairs of puffins, making it the state's largest puffin population. Show more

What led to the restoration of puffin populations on Maine's islands?

Maine's island puffin population decreased tremendously before the 1900s, except for a single pair on Matinicus Rock. To recover the population, National Audubon Society began Project Puffin in 1973. The project involved relocating puffins from Newfoundland to Maine's coastline islands. Currently, approximately 1,000 nesting pairs settle on Maine's islands, while Machias Seal Island boasts the highest number of puffins. This initiative played a massive role in conserving the endangered Atlantic puffin, whose population had significantly reduced along Maine's coastlines. Show more

Is it possible to rent a boat for an exclusive visit to Matinicus Rock?

Matinicus Rock is on an island 23 miles (37 km) away from the Rockland coast and does not have regular cruises to the area. However, visitors can rent a private boat from Rockland and enjoy a personalized tour of the area. The private tours allow visitors to have a better experience of the island and observe puffins, guillemots, and other seabird species. Show more

Besides puffins, which other species can we expect to see on Eastern Egg Rock?

Apart from its puffin colonies, Eastern Egg Rock is adored for its stunning surroundings and other seabird species. Visitors can catch glimpses of seals resting on rocks and swimming nearby. The island is famous for bald eagles, which are often seen either in flight or perched high on spruce trees. The island comes alive during summer as the sounds and sights of seabird species fill the air, creating an ideal chance to witness puffins and other coastal wildlife. Show more

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Last updated: by Olha Savych