What's New

Refuge Report

Seabird Gallery

Mission and Goals

Seabird Islands

Seabird Conservation



Board and Staff

Boat Trips


Common Tern

Seabird restoration techniques developed in Maine are now being used globally to help restore short-tailed albatross colonies in Japan, dark-rumped petrels in Ecuador and with common murres in California.


Seabird Conservation

Summer intern holding adult
Laughing Gull

The 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 in 1931.

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

In 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.

Friends of Maine Seabird Islands
c/o Maine Coastal Islands National Wildlife Refuge
PO Box 232
Rockport, ME 04856
(207) 236-6970
[email protected]
Jane Hopwood, Chair