An Atlantic puffin carries fish to its chick on Eastern Egg Rock, a small island off the coast of Maine. (AP/Robert F. Bukaty)

An Atlantic puffin carries fish to its chick on Eastern Egg Rock, a small island off the coast of Maine. (AP/Robert F. Bukaty)

Puffins are called the “clowns of the sea” because of their brightly colored faces and their awkwardness on land. (AP/Robert F. Bukaty)

Puffins are called the “clowns of the sea” because of their brightly colored faces and their awkwardness on land. (AP/Robert F. Bukaty)

A raft of Atlantic puffins swims near Eastern Egg Rock. (AP/Robert F. Bukaty)

A raft of Atlantic puffins swims near Eastern Egg Rock. (AP/Robert F. Bukaty)

Dr. Steve Kress holds a puffin chick. He helped bring puffins back to islands off the Maine coast. (AP/Robert F. Bukaty)

Dr. Steve Kress holds a puffin chick. He helped bring puffins back to islands off the Maine coast. (AP/Robert F. Bukaty)

An Atlantic puffin appears to imitate a decoy by standing on one leg. Decoys helped draw the birds back to the islands. (AP/Robert F. Bukaty)

An Atlantic puffin appears to imitate a decoy by standing on one leg. Decoys helped draw the birds back to the islands. (AP/Robert F. Bukaty)

Hard Year for Puffins

Posted: January 1, 2022

Look: puffy white chests, bright orange feet, beaks full of glittering fish. It’s no surprise people love puffins! And it’s no wonder people have the puffin blues this year. Maine’s beloved birds suffered one of their worst years for chick hatching in decades. Why? Scientists blame fish scarcity.

Puffins are seabirds with colorful beaks. Most of Maine’s puffins nest on four small islands. About 1,500 breeding pairs live in the state. They catch fish such as herring and sand lance to feed their young. Only about a quarter of the bird pairs were able to raise chicks this summer. That’s far fewer than normal.

This is a discouraging report. But it comes after good news. In the last few years, the puffins in Maine have been doing great. In 2019, they had one of their best hatching years on record. The Gulf of Maine had a cool year in 2019. The puffins’ favorite fish abounded. This year, on the other hand, was a hot one. Gulf fish do not survive as well in warmer water.

For a species like puffins, one bad year counts. The birds also live in Canada and on the other side of the ocean. Internationally, they’re listed as “vulnerable.” That’s why researchers count puffins so carefully. Puffins are sometimes called “clowns of the sea” because of their funny faces. But there’s nothing funny about dwindling puffin populations.

Still, it’s not time to panic yet. God is caring for puffins, and adult puffins are still surviving well. Most species go through cycles of growth and decline. Still, scientists watch. They want the puffin species to survive. And for that, the more babies, the better!

Look at the birds of the air: They neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? — Matthew 6:26

Puffin Facts:

  • Puffins are great flyers. They feel right at home in the sky. But they also love water. The birds spend a lot of time swimming in the sea.
  • A flapping puffin could keep up with your car—as long as you drive no more than 55 miles per hour.
  • These “parrots of the sea” are faithful to their partners. A puffin pair may stay together for as long as 20 years.

Why? Bad news for puffins reminds us: Creatures go through cycles of growth and decline, but God is always caring for them.