Summer intern holding adult
mission of the Friends of Maine Seabird
Islands is to encourage conservation and appreciation of seabirds, their nesting and coastal habitats, and to support
the Maine Coastal Islands National Wildlife Refuge.
Seabirds have always relied on
Maine's coastal islands as places for laying eggs and raising their young.
Generally, the islands used by seabirds are small, unforested, rocky islands that provide a setting free of
mammalian predators such as foxes, mink and raccoons. Flying
distance from the mainland often discourages avian predators such
as great horned owls. The cold waters surrounding the islands
hold an abundant supply of fish and invertebrates for seabirds to eat.
Native Americans used the coast's natural resources for more than
4,000 years. The Red Paint people camped on offshore islands in the summer
and fished the adjacent ocean waters. Although they hunted seabirds and their
eggs, it is believed they used sustainable methods, limiting harvest to certain islands
and hunting any one colony once every few years.
The long, graceful plumes of the egret in breeding season were especially popular. Hence egrets were killed in great numbers at a time when their young were still helpless, so thousands of chicks perished, too.
Europeans began settling the islands
in the 1600s. In the late
1800s, the fashion industry posed an additional threat to the
birds' existence. Women's hats were decorated with feathers.
Egrets, herons, and terns were especially popular and, therefore,
were the species most harmed by the trend (read more about this...). At the
start of the 20th Century, most seabirds in the Gulf of Maine
were on the brink of extirpation.
Concern for the future of all birds led to passage of the Migratory Bird
Treaty Act in 1918. The Act protects migratory birds, their nests, and
their eggs. At about the same time, trains and automobiles replaced boats
as preferred forms of transportation. People relocated to the mainland,
easing pressure on seabird habitat. Common and Arctic tern populations
rebounded, reaching a high of almost 16,000 pairs along the Maine coast
Some seabird species, nearly eradicated
in Maine by the end of the 19th century, have recovered dramatically,
thanks to to the passage of state and federal conservation
laws, island acquisition, habitat protection, and the restoration efforts of dedicated biologists.
Many threats remain. Continuing loss of nesting habitat, increasing nesting and habitat
disturbance from recreational activities, growing coastal
real estate development pressure and competition from expanding
gull populations all cause stress in seabird habitats.
Biologist banding Laughing Gull
fact, some seabird species nesting in Maine are no longer
able to survive without direct human intervention. Biologists
have been working since the mid-1970s to reintroduce and restore terns
and puffins to former nesting islands along the Maine coast. Their
successful efforts have also benefited nesting populations
of laughing gulls, black guillemots, razorbills, Leach's storm
petrels and common eiders.
Ultimately, stewardship of
natural resources is a community responsibility. The next
phase in the conservation of Maine seabirds will require
support from an informed public. The Friends of Maine Seabird Islands are dedicated to informing and educating Maine's one million residents and six million coastal visitors about the needs of the seabirds.