Prince William Sound Science Center scientists Kristen Gorman and Anne Schaefer recently returned from Middleton Island where they were retrieving geolocators – a tracking device – from Tufted Puffins (Fratercula cirrhata) that they banded at this same site last summer. The puffins have “worn” these leg bands for the past year during their migratory season.
Middleton Island is a known nesting site for the breeding puffins. The nesting birds are site faithful, meaning that they return to the same nest burrow every year, making retrieval of the tracking devices possible.
Tufted Puffins are an iconic seabird that inhabits a wide geographic area throughout temperate and subarctic regions of the Pacific Ocean. In recent years, populations along the west coast of North America, from California to southeastern Alaska, have declined. Higher latitude populations, from the Gulf of Alaska and west through the Aleutian Islands, were considered to be at least stable or increasing.
Recent concern has grown over Tufted Puffin breeding populations in the Gulf of Alaska that now appear to be declining and are predicted to decline in the future.
As this species may be vulnerable to rapid changes in the environment, these observations have important implications for advancing knowledge of Tufted Puffin ecology, management of the species, and education regarding seabird ecology in the Gulf’s changing environment.
Read more about this ongoing research here: Resolving the Annual Pelagic Distribution of Tufted Puffins
Photos by Kristen Gorman