Posts Tagged ‘chicks’

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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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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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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The beginning of the week started out slow and rough as the weather was not cooperative.  High winds made it so we could not go out to the tern colony as we wanted the adults to stay on their eggs and keep them warm from the howling winds.  Finally the weather broke Tuesday afternoon and we were able to do some trapping and banding of adult terns.  We do this by selecting a couple of nests, replacing the eggs with wooden ones so they do not get damaged, and placing a chicken wire trap over the nest with the door open.  When the adult walks into the trap, they step on a trigger platform that closes the door.  As the adult sits in the trap incubating the wooden eggs, we walk up and take it out of the trap through a hole in the top.  The adult is then placed in a bag where it is weighed using a spring scale.  We then band the bird and measure its wing chord and head-bill length before it is released to return to incubate its eggs which we have switched back to the real ones.


A common tern checking out the trap


Measuring wing chord length


Measuring head-bill length

Wednesday we headed over to Matinicus Rock to help them with their tern census.  It was nice to get out to another island to see what was going on there; plus we got to see Atlantic puffins, razorbills, and common murres, three species that do not nest on Metinic.


Atlantic puffins on Matinicus Rock

The next day it was our turn to census!  With the help of a few guests, we were able to count 608 nests in our colony of arctic and common terns!  We did this just in the nick of time as we came across multiple hatched chicks with more popping up every day!  The rest of the week was spent securing our productivity plots which are circles of fencing surrounding a number of nests.  When the chicks within the plots hatch, we record the hatch date and band them.  Every time we visit the plots, we weigh the chicks and keep track of how they are doing until they fledge.


Pipping arctic tern egg


A hungry chick waits to be fed

Throughout the week we have also come across savannah sparrow chicks and fledglings, and spotted sandpiper chicks running around on the rocks.  An identifying characteristic of spotted sandpipers is they bob their rump up and down as they walk; it is funny to watch the tiny fuzzy chicks do this as well!  We are looking forward to more chicks showing up in the upcoming weeks!


A tiny spotted sandpiper chick

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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Hello again from Ship Island! Mark and I are back at home base after visiting beautiful Petit Manan Island! While saying goodbye to puffins is not easy, we are excited to come back to a thriving population of Common Tern chicks. These little bundles of fuzzy feathers are just delightful and it’s hard to keep a straight face every time you see them scampering around the colony. With chicks, however, comes hard work.

Mark bands our first chick!

Mark bands our first chick!

Before the chicks began to hatch, we set up productivity plots. Productivity plots are essentially a group of nests that have fences around them. These plots allow us to closely monitor a subset of tern nests, which gives us insight into the success of the colony this season. On Ship we have six plots with a range of 5 to 11 nests in each plot. We visit the plots every day, monitoring nests that have yet to hatch, taking daily weight measurements of and banding chicks. From time to time, we see eggs that never hatch and chicks that don’t make it. While sad, this is part of why these plots are important. Our productivity plots let us know the effects of severe weather or can clue us in to potential predators. With this in mind, we’re very happy to report that we have a strong and growing chick population this year on Ship!

Common tern with herring

Common tern with herring

With so many chicks running around, we’re able to begin our provisioning studies here on Ship Island. These provisioning (feeding) studies are set up by designating several nests that are easily seen from the blinds. As the nests hatch, chicks are banded and colored according to nest number and chick order. For example, Nest 1 is green, so the A chick is marked green on its head, the B chick green on its breast and the C chick green on its back. Each nest has its own color and the chicks are marked in the same pattern. Once the provisioning study is under way, we wait for adults to return to their chicks with food in their bills. When they arrive, we record what they’re bringing in and who they’re feeding it to. Identifying the fish isn’t difficult; trying to see what it is before a hungry chick swallows it whole is the hard part! So far we’ve seen plenty of herring coming in, some hake and sandlance, and the occasional pollock. Again, all good news for the colony and its chicks!

B and C chicks beg for food while A chick gobbles down a herring

B and C chicks beg for food while A chick gobbles down a herring

That’s all for now! Hope you’re enjoying the weather and we’ll be back next week!


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In my last blog I mentioned that the Petit Manan crew had resighted a banded American Oystercatcher (AMOY) with its mate on Green Island which is adjacent to PMI and only accessible during low tide. After observing the banded AMOY in mid-May, we submitted our finding to the Bird Banding Lab website and received information about the bird. We discovered that it was born and banded as a chick in 2006 on Nantucket Island, Nantucket, MA. It was last resighted in 2014 in Charleston, South Carolina,

Observing American Oystercatcher on Green Island. Photo by: John Fatula

Observing American Oystercatchers on Green Island. Photo by: John Fatula

On our second visit over to Green Island we were combing the north-west side for any sign of Oystercatcher eggs, when we noticed that our 9 year-old banded AMOY, with its mate, were unusually vocal. So, we decided to move out of the area and use a spotting scope to watch from a distance. After about 15 minutes of scanning around we noticed tiny little chick heads in the rocks and sure enough they were 3 oystercatcher chicks!  We all watched through the scope as the adults foraged around and were surprised how quickly the adults can extract the meat from a mussel and feed the chicks (about 3 seconds). AMOY chicks will usually stay with the adults for up to a year to perfect their foraging techniques.

Foraging AMOY with 2 chicks( you can see how camouflaged the chicks are.)

Foraging AMOY with 2 chicks: you can see how    camouflaged the chicks are.

Banded AMOY with chicks. Photo by: Julia Gillis

Banded AMOY foraging with chick. Photo by: Julia Gillis

After further research by Linda Welch we were informed that these were the first AMOY chicks to be discovered on Green Island since 1997! Not only that, they have now become the most northerly breeding pair within their range. How cool! We always thought that Green Island seemed like a perfect place for AMOYs to nest, and have seen them loafing there in recent years, but never found any eggs or chicks as the adults are very secretive.  With just a few alarm calls by the adults, the chicks instinctively hide deep in the rocks of the intertidal zone. Each adult will constantly call and try to lure any predators out of the area. We just hope this pair can keep the prying eyes of the gulls away from discovering their chicks so they can grow up and successfully fledge. And we even received a certificate for our efforts.



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