Maine Puffin Tours
Maine Birding Vacations – Puffin & Seabird Cruises
Puffin Tours or Puffin viewing cruises leave from New Harbor, Port Clyde, Boothbay Harbor, Bremen, Cutler, Lubec, Jonesport, and Bar Harbor, Maine. Cruises operate from June to early August, but if you’re hoping to see puffin chicks hatch, plan on making the trip in late June to early July.While puffins are the main attraction on a puffin cruise, passengers often get to see many other types of birds, including black guillemots, cormorants, terns, petrels, ospreys, eiders, razorbill auks, shearwaters, phalaropes, and jeagers, and even whales, seals and dolphins.
Many puffin trips also take you past scenic lighthouses that you may not be able to see from land. Be flexible when you are making your puffin-viewing plans, since inclement weather may prevent the cruise boats from leaving on a particular day. At just 10 inches tall Atlantic puffins are smaller than many people expect, so bring binoculars and a camera with a zoom lens to get the most out of your puffin cruise. Any time you go out on the ocean, you should dress warmly and wear sunscreen.
Puffins are not in danger of extinction. In fact, there are an estimated 12 to 16 million puffins in the world. Atlantic puffins can be found near the coast of eastern Canada, Iceland, Greenland, and northern Europe and Russia. The Gulf of Maine is at the southernmost extreme of their range, and less than 1 percent of the world’s puffins nest here. If you had the impression that puffins are endangered, it may be because the puffin colonies in Maine — the only ones in the United States — were almost wiped out.
Several hundred pairs of puffins used to nest here each year, but human activities had threatened the puffins. People killed the birds for food, for their eggs, or for their feathers, which were used to decorate ladies’ hats. Additionally, commercial fishing had depleted the puffins’ food supply, and the introduction of rats and other land predators on some islands seriously disrupted the puffins’ nesting activities. Eventually there were only a few isolated pairs of puffins in the entire state. Project Puffin, a collaboration between the National Audubon Society and the Canadian Wildlife Service, began re-introducing puffins on Eastern Egg Rock in Muscongus Bay in 1973.
Scientists involved with Project Puffin transferred hundreds of chicks from Newfoundland over a period of many years, and the campaign has been successful; puffins are once again nesting on Eastern Egg Rock.
Thanks to the efforts of puffin-friendly lighthouse keepers, there are still thriving natural puffin colonies on Matinicus Rock in Penobscot Bay and on Machias Seal Island on the border between Maine and New Brunswick, Canada. Machias Seal Island has by far the largest population of puffins each summer, and it is the only island where puffin cruise boats are allowed to land (weather permitting).