Archive for June, 2018

Petit Manan is still booming with babies!  Many tern chicks have already hatched (and some are even beginning to get their big kid feathers!) while others are still just entering the world. The crew has begun provisioning studies – watching what the parents bring to feed the chicks. Depending on what types of fish the chicks are being fed, we may be able to better understand why some chicks may not survive, as well as how healthy the local ecosystem is, or if there are signs of overharvesting. So just by watching what a couple dozen chicks are eating, we are given a lot of information!

A few days ago we also completed an entire census of the island. We recorded all tern and laughing gull nests on the island, as well as if the tern nests had been predated on by using the predator sticks we put out in the beginning of the season. We had help from several other biologists from the mainland, giving us a crew of 11 people over the two day census.IMG_9331

Sadly, we also said our farewells to the PhD student we had the pleasure of working with for the past 3 weeks. She was studying the Laughing Gull colony, and has completed collecting the data she needs. She will be heading back to North Dakota shortly and we all wish her the best with the rest of her research!

The Petit Manan crew will continue adoring the puffins, watching the tern chicks grow up (a little too fast), and skunking each other in cribbage.

Over and out,


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As one can imagine, things don’t always go as planned when working on a seabird restoration island. The last three weeks have been a whirlwind. All was well and the terns were incubating, when a nasty storm was headed for our little island. A few days before the storm, the terns were leaving the island at night. We started with night stints, thinking it was a nocturnal predator (eg. Owl, raccoon, or mink). After the weekend, our biologists and staff came out to do a walk-through of the island. Boo, the pup, came out to sweep the island for any sign of mammalian predators. We set several more mink traps, owl traps, and even some raccoon traps on nearby Trumpet Island. The only sign of predation found that day was a dead adult tern. Leaving puzzled, we continued with night walks and checking traps every two hours. With no sigh of a predator, the big storm came with high tides. The terns didn’t return after the storm, leaving their eggs exposed to avian predators. The next day we found cracked eggs as well as missing eggs. Soon to see what may be the culprit, crows. We also had a family of geese causing a ruckus, trampling through our colony, destroying nests. Meanwhile, the terns have been coming back at night, staying the night, and leaving in the morning. Again, we did a walk-through, finding three tern feather piles in the rack line. We moved a few of the owl traps and set up game cameras. The island sitter came out for the weekend, finding a new tern feather pile in the rack line on the beach. She saw a Peregrine Falcon and a Merlin early in the morning. During this two week period, colony behavior has not been normal. They have been less and less aggressive towards not only us, but predators as well. Instead of the terns attacking the Merlin, the Merlin was flying with the terns. After this weekend, it seems as if most of the colony has abandoned. However, we have been seeing a few new nests and have confirmation of one. We marked a new one egg nest in one of our productivity plots and the next day there were TWO eggs! At this point we are doing everything we can to scare all predators (eg. Gulls, crows, and eagles) off of the island.


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Our restoration work on Metinic is primarily focused on terns, but we also monitor black guillemot burrows. We locate burrows on the island by watching birds fly in and out of burrows from a blind, and we eventually check those sites for eggs. Black guillemots lay eggs in burrows in rocky crevices and under ledges, which makes it slightly more challenging than nest searching for terns. We have found 34 active nests so far, 15 of which we will monitor for the rest of the season.

We will monitor hatching success, predation and chick growth rate. We selected easily accessible burrows to monitor chick growth because some guillemots are experts at making their nests completely inaccessible. Once there are chicks, we will visit the burrows every few days to measure weight and wing chord of the guillemots to track their growth. Guillemots incubate for 23 to 39 days, and only a few eggs are beginning to show signs of hatch. In our search for active burrows, however, we found one burrow that contained two chicks! As more eggs hatch and we begin to monitor growth we will update you all with how they are doing.
-Nick & Nora

Black Guillemot

Black guillemot chick on its hatch day.


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Explosion of Life

Everything is hatching on Metinic. We’ve had common eider ducklings for a few weeks now, but all the other eggs are beginning to hatch. On the south end of the island, great black-backed and herring gull chicks are everywhere. Some gull chicks are about 14-18 days old now, so they’re reaching their awkward teenage/baby dinosaur stage. Here on the north end of the island we have seemingly hundreds of tern chicks, spotted sandpiper chicks, and we are beginning to see our first black guillemot chicks. Or not see, rather, as they are very good at hiding in their burrows. We’ve also found a few passerine nests, which also have chicks at the moment.

There are two extremes in terms of how chicks hatch: naked and helpless (altricial) versus covered in down and capable of feeding themselves (precocial). American robin, for example, hatch with their eyes closed and completely naked and require a lot of care to grow all of their feathers while being fed by the parents. On the other hand, spotted sandpiper chicks are capable of running a few hours after hatch, are covered in down and can feed themselves. Black guillemots and our two tern species are semi-precocial: they hatch with eyes open, down and can move, but they rely on their parents bringing food to them.

Just as with their eggs, tern chicks can be variable in natal down color and pattern. Typically, they’re tan, brown or gray with dark streaks and splotches that help them blend in with the environment. In some cases there is speckling in the down. However, we have a common tern chick in a productivity plot that is completely blonde with no streaks on the back. It looks more similar to a domestic duckling than anything else, and it is very easy to find! We’ll post soon to show you how our chicks are growing!

-Nick and Nora

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It has been a very busy week for the Petit Manan crew as well as all the tern parents on the island. Our first chicks hatched on June 15th and more and more have been hatching each day. These little fluff balls are absolutely adorable but that cuteness comes at price! Like any good parents, the adults have become very protective of their young and are willing to do anything to ward us researchers off which include pecking us and pooping on us. Now that there are chicks out and about the research team has added on a few more tasks to our days. Every day we must check productivity plots we set up around the islands. These plots are basically giant tern baby play pens each containing 6-15 nests. In these pens we track the hatch date of every egg and track the progression of each chick as they grow. In the end, it will give insight on the entire hatching and fledgling success of the tern colony. We weigh the chicks and also band them; that way, when they start running around we can tell who is who.  We also are beginning food provisioning surveys in which we record what the adults are feeding their chicks. We’re hoping to see lots of herring, hake, pollock, sandlance! It’s a fun time to be on Petit Manan and we’re hoping for lots of healthy chicks that grow up ready to migrate down to South America or further this fall.

‘Till next post,


Pictures: Top L to R; Lance weighing a chicks, an Arctic tern chick, an Arctic tern chick sporting some new bands. Bottom L to R; Kate searching the productivity plot for chicks, a tub full of common tern chicks waiting to be weighed


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This week, we banded our first adult Common Terns, set up our first productivity plots, have our first Spotted Sandpiper chicks, and saw our first Common Eider creche.


We have been busy trapping and banding terns. So far, we have trapped 9 adult terns with 2 recaptures. One banded as a chick on Petit Manan Island in 2009 and the other banded in Buenos Aires, Argentina!


Productivity plots are used to monitor chick productivity. Each plot includes 8-10 nests and is monitored daily until chicks hatch. Once all chicks in the plot have hatched, they are banded and weighed every-other day.

Earlier this week, we conducted the Golf of Maine Seabird Working Group (GOMSWG) survey here on Ship Island. We found a total of 498 Common Tern nests, a few even had 4 eggs!


We cannot wait for our chicks to start hatching!

Your 2018 Ship Island Crew

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Hello everyone, my name is Lance Edwards Jr. Blogging in from Petit Manan Island, where I will be stationed for the remainder of the summer with 3 other crew members, Kate, Chris, and Alex. They’ve all been great welcoming me on the island. Their knowledge and experience working with seabird has been helpful for me when identifying and learning about the various birds here on the island, such as the common terms, arctic terns, Atlantic puffins, razorbills, black guillemots, laughing gulls and many more.

As a nutrition major from Long Island university, my experience thus far has been different from what most nutrition majors experience. Everyday holds something exciting, from citing a new bird species, too handling birds, tagging, collecting sample and taking measurements. Field work is so exciting.

My first experience on Petit Manan Island was an encounter with the common terns flying at my head. I thought they were being friendly but that was not the case. An attacking tern flies directly toward a intruders head. And since it’s the incubation period, the parents protect their eggs from predators as well as defend a suitable territorial space from neighbors or strangers which intrude on there territory. The terns also enjoy pooping on us which is something we experience everyday.

I will keep everyone updated on my experience here on Petit Manan Island. Till next time.

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Hi everyone! My name is Kate O’Connor and I am super excited to be spending my summer out here on Petit Manan Island. I just finished my second year at the University of Maine studying Wildlife Ecology and this is my first experience working exclusively with birds… and living on an island! But, the island is beautiful, and we have a great crew out here, so it was an easy transition making PMI my home away from home.P1040291

Just recently, we stared fixing up and learning how to use some of the traps we will be using on the terns and Puffins for when we start banding – which is soon! We are finding more and more eggs from all of the birds, and were especially excited about being able to mark our first Guillemot and Razorbill burrows, and see the first Eider chicks swimming around with their momma! We’ve also been seeing more wildlife, including Common Murres, which haven’t historically bred in Maine, and a few seals these past few days which is always an exciting sight.P1040431

We’ve welcomed a PhD student from North Dakota onto the island as well, who is studying laughing gull eggs and chicks, and so far she’s been getting a lot of work done – we’re very excited for her! She’s been a great addition to the island and it’s always a great time helping her out when we get a chance.P1040304

The past few days have been very busy, and there’s only more to come. Island life is amazing, and I couldn’t imagine doing anything else. The weather is looking clear, sunny, and warm(er), and the crew is having a great time.P1040331


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The breeding season is well underway here on Metinic Island. We’ve completed breeding censuses for common eiders, and herring and great black-backed gulls. We are also monitoring breeding passerines, black guillemots, Leach’s storm-petrels, and common and arctic terns. There is an incredible diversity in eggs, both between and within species. Eggs come in a variety of shapes and colors, which are related to the ecology of the species, nesting behavior and depredation risk. For example, owls lay spherical to elliptical eggs that are whitish to cream colored because they are top predators and mostly nest in cavities. Owls do not need to disguise their eggs as much as say towhees, which nest on or near the ground.

In avian reproduction, the formation of the shell and addition of pigment occurs just prior to laying. Pigments in the egg shell strengthen it, as well as provide camouflage and other signals. While females of a species typically produce similar eggs, subtle differences between individuals can cause unusual patterns or pigments in eggs.

Many species within a family produce similar eggs either in color, pattern or both. For example, most duck eggs are relatively plain and white to pale green or blue, while the basic pattern in warblers is cream to white with brown speckling. However, other families, such as gulls and terns, show substantial variation between individuals and within a clutch (the group of eggs that a female lays in a single nest). Gull and tern eggs can be pale brown to blue or green, or darker brown or green. There are brown and gray speckles, squiggles or splotches (all very technical terms) that both strengthen the eggs and distinguish them from other eggs.

We’ve seen a huge variety of color and pattern in herring gulls especially. Most are some shade of brown from pale cream to dark brown. Some are delicately speckled while others have splotches of dark browns. At least one egg was found that had dark speckles around the wide part, and was plain everywhere else. It was like a printer that runs out of ink while printing a picture. Tern eggs can be pale to dark green as well, but new this year was an almost teal arctic tern egg. The base color with brown speckles make the egg look like a scoop of mint chocolate chip ice cream, but why that egg is so brightly colored compared to other tern eggs.

These eggs show some of the possible variation in bird eggs. Some research has been conducted to understand what directs the shape, coloration and pattern of eggshells. Research suggests that the individual variation may improve nest identification for colonially nesting species, or eggshells may be signals. For example, the depth of blue-green in eggshells may be a result of a higher antioxidant level in females, signaling greater health of both the female and offspring.

Eggs are just one of the many fascinating aspects of avian biology that we get to experience out here. It’s an egg-cellent way to study individual variation, health and reproduction in birds.

~Nick and Nora

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We found our first Common Tern nest, and couldn’t be more excited! Since finding our first nest, we have marked over 50 nests and have been monitoring them daily for signs of predation. We have taken note of close to 100 nests in our little colony, while keeping a close eye on any signs of unusual activity that could result in predation. We have been observing more and more terns visiting the colony and spending the night with us.

Yesterday, we headed over to Trumpet Island with refuge staff to conduct a census. While on the island, we walked 3m apart and counted all gull (Great Black-backed and Herring) and Common Eider clutches observed. Not only did we census Trumpet, we also got to observe a Great Black-backed Gull chick hatching!

Although the gull chicks were adorable, we cannot wait for our tern chicks to start hatching!

Your 2018 Ship Island Crew!                                                                                                                 ~Olivia and Bailey

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