Posts Tagged ‘Black Guillemot’

Petit Manan Island is in peak hatching season! The small, delicately speckled brown tern eggs are disappearing and being replaced by similarly patterned fluffy chicks. The oblong, white-brown spotted black guillemot eggs are opening up to reveal all-black downy chicks. Where once we were seeing large, gleaming white puffin eggs, now chicks with long grey down and white bellies are hiding quietly in their burrows. We even have found one razorbill chick (see photo below)! The only seabird still solely in the incubation stage are the Leach’s storm-petrels.


One question that I often get asked is, why do some seabirds only ever hatch one chick (think puffins, razorbills, storm-petrels), while others can rear multiple chicks (terns, guillemots, etc)?

In general, seabirds have small clutch sizes compared to birds of other groups like most waterfowl, game birds, and some perching birds. This is because seabirds, unlike the groups mentioned previously, tend to have long life spans. This means it is not quite as critical for seabirds to have a successful nesting season their first breeding season or every year of their life in order to replace themselves in the population. Other bird species may only get one chance to successfully reproduce if annual adult survival is low due to high depredation of adults and/or other factors.


But why lay only one egg instead of two or even three? There are multiple factors that influence seabird clutch size, and still many questions to be answered. Chick rearing is very energetically demanding for the parents, from egg formation to providing enough food for growing chicks. Right from when birds arrive on the breeding grounds, food availability is critical. After long migrations or rough winters, seabirds need to be able to find enough resources near their breeding colony to allow them to be in proper condition for breeding. Limited food resources during this period of time can cause birds to lay smaller clutch sizes, or even not nest at all.


This still does not answer our question why puffins and other species only lay one egg, in both good and bad food years. For species with one egg clutches, it is more beneficial for the long-term survival and breeding success of the adults to raise only one chick at a time. Raising two chicks would probably not be impossible during good food years, but the energetic costs on the parents might make this not worthwhile in the long run. So puffins, razorbills, and many other seabirds prefer to take things slow, laying only one egg per season.

Currently, we have found 17 black guillemot chicks, 15 Atlantic puffin chicks, one razorbill chick, and a few hundred tern chicks!





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Petit Manan Island is well known for its seabird inhabitants, most notably our Atlantic Puffins and Arctic Terns. However, a total of eight species of marine birds return yearly to nest on Petit Manan Island. Most of these birds have conspicuous nests, such as the terns and Laughing Gulls which lay their eggs on the ground’s surface. The Alcids, such as Puffins, Black Guillemots, and Razorbills, lay their eggs in burrows or rock crevices, but the adults are still easily observed on the rocks and surrounding waters. But Leach’s Storm-Petrels, the smallest seabird denizen of Petit Manan, are a little bit trickier to detect.


Jimmy holding an adult Leach’s Storm Petrel that was grubbed from a nearby burrow

Leach’s Storm-Petrels differ from the other seabirds on PMI in a variety of ways. Taxonomically, they are the only species representing a group of seabirds called the Tubenoses to be found on PMI. Also, they are nocturnal and nest in often long, twisting sod burrows.  The burrow entrances are smaller than the size of a fist, and tucked underneath rotting logs, debris and rocks. These life history traits make observing storm-petrels quite the challenge, and prevent accurate estimations of breeding pairs on nesting islands.

This summer we have been testing a new methodology to s
urvey for active storm-petrel burrows. Instead of just reaching as far into each burrow to feel for birds and eggs, we have been playing a recording of storm-petrel vocalizations outside of each potential burrow entrance. The results have been extremely exciting! The birds have been responding with their strange, goblin-giggling call from deep within their burrows. But more importantly, this method has allowed us to find more birds than just by feeling in the burrows. In fact, 63% of the storm-petrels we located only because we heard them – their burrows did not allow us to reach them. Overall, 93% of the adults we located using both methods responded to playback. Hopefully this monitoring technique will provide new insights into Leach’s Storm Petrels nesting on Maine coastal islands!


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It’s been a beautiful week on Metinic, with the warm sun providing for excellent hatching weather. More tern chicks show up every day in our plots and some of the older ones are getting their first wing feathers. Of the dozens of chicks in our plots, the color and pattern can vary considerably from sandy tan chicks with only a few black spots to almost snowy white speckled with dark streaks.

silver_gold siblings

We call these arctic tern chicks the “Silver and Gold Siblings”

We made the most of the weather early in the week to continue our trapping efforts, with a special focus on one particular bird. In 2010, Refuge staff placed geolocator data loggers on the legs of several arctic terns to track their annual journey from breeding grounds in Maine to their winter range in the waters around Antarctica. The geolocator measures the amount and timing of sunlight to determine the location of the bird. Most of the loggers were retrieved in 2011 or 2012, but a few were still missing. Luckily, Helen and I spotted this bird in May, and figured that it was breeding here. On Wednesday, Refuge staff Brian, Michael, Linda, and Sara came out to the island to locate and catch the bird. Between the six of us, we sat in our five blinds and watched for the bird. We quickly found the bird and its nest, but trapping efforts were to no avail. After a fruitless attempt on Thursday, Brian and Michael came back out on Friday and finally managed to catch the bird after a few hours of waiting with a bow net. It appears that the nest is being attended by three adult terns, which is unusual, but may account for the difficulty of catching the bird if it’s only spending a third of the time on the nest. The geolocator was removed and the bird released. Hopefully, the data on the geolocator can be retrieved and we can see where the bird has been!


The geolocator on the tern’s leg before it was removed

While the Friday tern trapping stint was ongoing, Helen and I went out to check on black guillemot burrows on the northwest side of the island in advance of hatching. June 27th is International Guillemot Appreciation Day, traditionally around when the first chick hatches. Guillemots, relatives of puffins, nest in rock crevices all along the Maine coast. We located several rocky burrows with eggs and a few with adults attending. Between the burrows, a few gull chicks were running around near their nests atop the rocks.

blgu on nest

An adult black guillemot incubates its eggs in a rock crevice

gull chick

Herring gull chick. Both herring and great black-backed gulls breed on Metinic.

At the southern end of the cliffs, we were checking a last couple of rocks when we were surprised to find our first guillemot chicks a few days early!

BLGU chicks

Black guillemot chicks are covered in dark gray downy feathers

Have a happy Guillemot Day!


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While the terns have been settled on their nests incubating eggs, we had an eventful week here on Metinic Island!  The excitement began on Tuesday when a multi-agency group of biologists interested in common eiders came out to take blood samples from the hens for their ongoing genetic population analysis.  Mark and I got to learn about common eider biology and assist with the capture of 38 hens, which was quite fun!  We caught them by either using a dip net after flushing them off of their nests, or we simply snuck up on them and picked them up off of their nests.  We found that you have to be quick to catch them, but once caught, they are quite easy to handle.  Each hen was then banded, and a small blood sample was taken before releasing them to tend to their nests again.  Throughout the remainder of the week, we have also been spotting a number of eider creches with the largest being made up of 23 hens and 28 ducklings!


Here is a hen that was just banded 


Now a small blood sample is taken


Here I am with the hen ready to be released!

The next couple of days were spent climbing around the rocky coast of the island searching for black guillemot burrows.  These alcids like to nest in holes and crevices in the rocks, so once we found one with either an adult or an egg in it; we marked the entrance with spray paint so we can relocate the burrows for our egg assessments and growth rate monitoring of the chicks when they hatch.


A burrow we marked with blue spray paint


A black guillemot egg found in the burrow

Some of the island’s sheep managed to escape our first round-up and had been wandering around in the tern colony, running the risk of them trampling the eggs.  Our efforts to chase them off of the colony were becoming too numerous, so we decided to do a second round-up and drive to the southern end of the island.  After the round-up, deputy refuge manager Brian Benedict was checking the fence to make sure it was working and came across a popped weather balloon with its parachute deployed.  Attached to the parachute string was an envelope with a message asking whoever found the balloon to mail the accompanying measuring device back to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).  That just goes to show you never know what you’ll find working out on the Maine coastal islands!


Mark with the NOAA weather balloon

That just about wraps up another exciting week on Metinic!  We are looking forward to the next coming weeks as more nests and possibly more chicks show up!  We are also hoping to add to our bird species list, we are at 82 now!

Until next time,


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Hi all!  Helen here!  My first week with the seabirds on Metinic Island has been full of exploring, birding, and learning new things!  We started out the week by rounding up all of the resident sheep and driving them to the southern end of the island where we put up an electric fence to keep them out of the tern colony for the season.  We did this just in time as both the arctic and common terns have returned and are actively seeking out mates and nesting sites.  We have begun observing the terns from the blinds and have watched them settling in throughout the week.  We have seen the terns landing on the ground, evaluating various potential nesting sites, and showing courtship behaviors such as the males presenting the fish they caught to females.


Common terns checking out the area! 

The terns aren’t the only ones settling in for the season, the black guillemots are courting and seeking out burrows in the rocks as well.  We have also observed a number of common eider nests with eggs!  We even saw one hen with three ducklings today, which is early for them.  We are expecting to find many more eider nests in the coming weeks as they are still displaying courtship behaviors.  To prepare for the arrival of the chicks, we have begun setting up snake plastic as a means of predator control.  Metinic has a population of garter snakes who enjoy feeding on the seabird eggs and hatchlings, so we set out black plastic that the snakes will be attracted to because they create a warm place for them to hide.  We will periodically check the plastic and gather any snakes into a bucket to release them on the mainland.


A hen common eider on her nest, they have excellent camouflage!


Freshly laid eider eggs

Along with setting up and preparing for the upcoming season of seabird chick monitoring, we have been keeping track of our other feathered friends on the island.  Every day we start out with our morning point counts then spend the day exploring around and recording any additional bird species seen/heard, and we end the day with shorebird counts right before sunset.  So far, Mark and I have recorded 71 different species!  Metinic is a great location to support a variety of birds as the island includes rocky coast, open field, forest, wetland, shrub, and pond habitats.  We are looking forward to adding to our list as the season progresses!


Black-throated green warblers are very common in the island forest!


Ruddy turnstones on the shore



Until next week,


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While most of the other MCINWR islands are winding down for the season, Petit Manan is still going strong with major alcid trapping, island-wide guillemot and storm petrel checks, Arctic tern re-sighting, and our new-this-year project: Atlantic puffin feeding studies.

Atlantic Puffin with bill load

Atlantic Puffin with bill load through scope.

Puffin flying to burrow with fish that we have to identify as part of our feeding study

Puffin flying to burrow with fish that we have to identify as part of our feeding study

During our alcid checks, we discovered two little surprises in the form of Razorbill chicks! Only five pairs are breeding here on Petit Manan, so each new chick is very special to us. We even managed to capture one of his parents bringing food back to the burrow, an unusual sight here on PMI

Freshly banded Razorbill chick

Freshly banded Razorbill chick

Razorbill flying with food

Razorbill flying with food

Here are a few more snapshots of what else has been going on at PMI.

Black Guillemot chick being weighed during our weekly productivity checks

Black Guillemot chick being weighed every 5 days as part of our productivity checks

Leach's storm-petrel chick

Leach’s storm-petrel chick

PMI crew banding a puffin chick, minus Julia who took the photo

PMI crew banding a puffin chick, minus Julia who took the photo

A puffin undergoing the banding process

A puffin undergoing the banding process

Wayne and Julia with their first captured adult Razorbill!

Wayne and Julia with their first captured adult Razorbill!

Until next time,

Wayne and Julia

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Common Tern on flagpole

Common Tern on flagpole

Another year on PMI! After two weeks of cold weather and high winds the terns have finally started to nest. Maybe not in the numbers that we are used to but it’s still early enough for more terns to arrive and settle in for the nesting season. The Alcids on PMI don’t seem to waste any time, Atlantic Puffins and Razorbills have already laid eggs at least 3 days ago and hundreds of Black Guillimots are still prospecting all over the island.

First Actic Tern egg

Actic Tern egg

Atlantic Puffin egg

Atlantic Puffin egg

Razorbill egg

Razorbill egg

Tern eggs are made to blend in with beach materials such as sand, pebbles, and seashells but nesting up and away from the beach can be risky as some tern eggs can stand out against the vegetation and island dirt. Puffin and Razorbill eggs don’t need to be camouflaged as most Alcids nest in deep, dark burrows away from the eyes of arial predators. Puffin eggs are all white and a little smaller than the Razorbill’s bigger, speckled egg.

Banded American Oystercatcher resighted  on Green Island

Banded American Oystercatcher resighted on Green Island

Last week while over on Green Island, which is ajacent to PMI and only accessible at low tide, we resighted an American Oystercatcher! We know they try to nest there every year, but haven’t yet been able to resight one yet. Now with the numbers on his bands we can find out who he is.

Memorial Day cookout on PMI

Memorial Day cookout on PMI

Thanks to MCINWR we have a grill this year! Until next time….

Wayne and Julia

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