Posts Tagged ‘Common Eiders’

Good morning everyone!

Life is busy here on Metinic. The terns have been creating more scrapes and laying more eggs by the day. It seems there is an egg everywhere you look! Walking around the colony reminds me of going on an Easter egg hunt, except you have to walk VERY carefully.

In addition to the terns, there are several other birds that nest on the island. Over the past couple weeks we have seen nests from Herring Gulls, Common Eiders, Spotted Sandpipers, Savannah Sparrows and Song Sparrows. One of my favorite parts about seeing each nest is the variation in the size of the eggs. There are eggs that are almost as large as your palm, like those of the Herring Gulls and the Common Eiders. Then there are eggs that are no bigger than the tip of your finger, such as the eggs of the Savannah Sparrows and the Song Sparrows. All of the eggs have variety of neutral colors and patterns that help to camouflage them from predators. It is incredible to see the attention to detail that birds have. Each nest is created in its own special way, and it is easy to see the time and energy that each bird puts into building their nest!

There are other birds that nest on the island, but they do not build the typical nest one would think of. These birds lay their eggs inside of small, hard to reach burrows. Some of the burrows are located in the rocks along the coastline. These burrows are home to Black Guillemots that will nest in a crevice no larger than your fist! Finding these burrows can especially difficult. I am amazed at how these birds can fit themselves into such a small space. I am even more amazed by the past technicians who have been able to locate these tiny nesting spots!

Last night we spent some time locating Leach’s Storm Petrel Burrows. Many of their burrows are made inside of the rock walls on the island. However, these small seabirds will also dig themselves burrows under down trees, large boulders, inside of small dirt mounds and even under our cabin. Believe it or not, we hear these small birds every night under our kitchen floor! Leach’s Storm Petrels are nocturnal, so locating their burrows requires going out on a late night adventure! We find each burrow by playing the “purr” calls of these birds. Then if we hear a response, we try to narrow down where the call is coming from so we can mark the entrance of the burrow. Once the burrows are located, we can go back in the daylight and use a burrow scope to look inside of the burrows and see what activity is going on. A burrow scope is a long, snake-like camera that we can use to see inside of the small burrows. 

So to recap – there are many different bird species that nest on Metinic! Living here during the breeding season is a magical experience. I feel especially grateful to have been chosen to work on this incredible island!

Today on Metinic it is raining sideways and the wind is blowing at over 20 mph. Needless to say, it is data entry day! Hopefully tomorrow we will be able to get back outside!

All the best,





Song Sparrow Nest and Eggs (Photo by Mary Negri)


Savannah Sparrow Nest and Eggs (Photo by Mary Negri)


Spotted Sandpiper Nest and Eggs (Photo by Mary Negri)


Herring Gull Nest and Eggs (Photo by: Mary Negri)


Common Eider Nest and Eggs (Photo by Mary Negri)


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As the heat of July settles in on Metinic, our birds, especially all those chicks we have, all need ways to keep cool.

Like humans, birds need to keep their bodies at a specific temperature. However, birds lack one of the key ways humans keep cool: the ability to sweat . So how does an animal covered in feathers and/or down make it through the summer without suffering from heatstroke? (No, the answer isn’t air conditioning or lots of ice cream)

A guillemot chick, sporting a black down coat for the summer

A guillemot chick, sporting a black down coat for the summer

This isn’t that hard for swimming seabirds like Common Eiders. Even though these ducklings are dressed in down coats for the summer, they don’t run the risk of overheating because they hop straight in to the cold coastal waters, sometimes on the day they hatch! Adults and ducklings alike will spend almost all their time in the water, occasionally hopping up onto rocks to preen.

Four eider ducklings tag along with mom

Six eider ducklings tag along with mom

However, chicks that aren’t ready to swim on day one can’t just jump in the water for a nice cool dip. Black Guillemots have found one of the simplest solutions to keeping their chicks comfortable – keep them out of the sun. Along with providing protection from hungry gulls, a guillemot’s burrow is shaded and cool. The chicks won’t leave the burrows until they are ready to swim, and then they can chill like the eiders.

A guillemot parent and two chicks (one freshly hatched) in a nice cool burrow

A guillemot parent and two chicks (one freshly hatched) in a nice cool burrow

So what if you’re stuck on the land, without a shady burrow like, say, a tern chick? You start out getting a little help from mom and dad. When tern chicks are small enough, they can be brooded by their parents. This behavior does double duty: it keeps chicks warm on cold nights and mornings, and provides cool (or at least cooler) shade during hot days.

An adult Arctic Tern brooding a chick

An adult Arctic Tern brooding a chick

Some chicks still seem to want to be brooded even when they are far too big.

A patient Arctic Tern parent "broods" a chick

A patient Arctic Tern parent “broods” a chick

If the parents are off fishing, something they spend most of their time doing once the chicks are a bit bigger, the chicks have to keep themselves cool. The simplest strategy is familiar to anyone with a pet dog: panting. Adults and chicks alike can be seen panting on hot days.

A panting tern chick

A panting tern chick

Once mobile, usually just a few days after hatching, tern chicks can seek out shade on their own by escaping under a rock or into the cooler grass. It isn’t unusual for us to find “chick tunnels” marking the path chicks take back and forth between their nests (where they get food from their parents) and a safe spot in the grass. We also put out three-sided structures known as “chick huts” in more exposed areas without much natural shelter.


A Arctic Tern chick (colored for a provisioning study) takes shelter in a shady chick hut

A Arctic Tern chick (colored for a provisioning study) takes shelter in a shady chick hut

Hope all our readers are staying cool as well!


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Hello from the 2013 Metinic Crew!

There will two of us on this amazing island this year.

I’m Amy, and I’m returning for my second summer with Maine Coastal Island National Wildlife Refuge. If you’re a long-term reader of this blog, you might remember my entries from Ship Island last year.  I’m a graduate of Colby College, and this is my third summer on seabird islands (2nd with the MCINWR).

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A Common Tern on Metinic Island – photo by Amy

Joining me on Metinic Island is Zak, a student at Michigan State University. This is Zak’s first time on a seabird island, but he’s had tons of other bird-y experiences, including work in China and Costa Rica. His most recent accomplishment is almost single-handedly meeting the all-time high species count for Metinic Island in under 3 weeks (more on that in future entries).


Our house on Metinic under the stars – Photo by Zak

Also settling in for the summer are our reasons for being here:  terns, guillemots, eider, and gulls. It was a rough summer for the terns last year – bad weather and high levels of predation caused the colony to abandon the island before their eggs had hatched. Luckily, they’ve come back this year to give it another try! We’ve seen over 150 Common and Arctic Terns hanging out on the north point of Metinic.  We hope to see eggs sometime in the next two weeks – keep your fingers crossed for us and the birds!

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Arctic Terns investigating a nest scrape – photo by Amy

In the meantime, gulls, Spotted Sandpipers, and Common Eiders are already sitting on eggs, while Black Guillemots and Leach’s Storm Petrels have been examining and excavating burrows.

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A nest of Common Eider eggs – look at all that soft down! – Photo by Amy

We’ve just recovered from a stretch of rainy and windy weather, so expect more soon!

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A Herring Gull in the rain – Photo by Amy

– Amy

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