For seabirds in the Gulf of Maine, or at least for the researchers who work with them, the coming of August brings the end of another season and another summer. While you may be enjoying the beach or floating in your pool at home, seabirds are going through one of the most important events of the summer: the fledging of their chicks. For months now these parent birds have invested enormous amounts of time and energy into raising young and passing on their genes, and now is when all of that expenditure culminates, hopefully, into wonderful success when the chicks are finally old enough to leave the nest. For most birds, “fledging” technically refers to the age when chicks are old enough to fly, and for guillemots this means the chicks are at least 33 days old.
That means their parents have been feeding and looking after their growing chicks for over a month now – not to mention the month of incubation before they even hatched – the parents themselves have lost weight from the strain of raising young while their chicks have demanded ever more from them. On July 27 and 28 Eastern Brother’s Island celebrated its first fledged chicks of the season, Alfonso and Bernadette. They no longer resemble their smaller, fuzzy black peers but have donned a beautifully speckled black and white plumage that will aid them as juveniles at sea.
Unlike their relatives, the razorbill, guillemot chicks fledge independently, usually at night, when they leave the comfort of their granite burrows and fly/hop down to the water’s edge. Once in the water, they can dive immediately and begin to forage and fend for themselves. They float alone on the ocean for their first winter, going where the currents carry them, learning the ropes of how to be an adult seabird. A fledged chick means a successful parent (and a happy researcher); now the fate of their young is out of our hands and rests in the hands of the Ocean. We wish you well, little guillemots!