Bill Thrune - USFWS
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Signs of Spring: May 26, 1998
Puffins Come Ashore!
Birdwatchers are starting to flock to islands off the Canadian and Alaskan coasts, and a
couple of islands off Maine,in hopes of viewing nesting puffins and other oceanic birds.
All Photos: USFWS
Puffins stay in deep waters all year-- except when they come to rocky islands to nest. These adorable little fish
catchers actually dig their own nest burrows on the islands.
Using their bill as a pickax and webbed feet and sharp claws to dig, they throw the soil backwards as they dig
in 2-4 feet. (For a better look, click on the face of the picture.)
After the females lay one egg, the pair takes turns incubating
it. The egg is very safe deep inside the burrow, so sometimes both the male and female take a break for a couple
of hours each day to sit outside with their neighbors.
It takes a puffin egg about six weeks to hatch. Then the work begins! One ornithologist named Lockley who studied
puffins estimated that each baby eats about its weight in fish every day, and that the parents feed it about 2000
fish during the time that it is in the burrow. They kill each fish with sharp "pincers" at the tip of
the bill, and then hold it against the serrations in their upper bill with their round tongue while they catch
more fish. Each puffin parent can carry up to 30 little fish in its beak at a time.
Several weeks after the baby hatches, the parents bodies
get ready to molt. They must return to the sea before they lose their flight feathers. So they leave the baby safe
in its burrow, with a lot of fishy fat on its body. After a week or so, the puffling gets so hungry it sets out
on its own to find the sea. It can't fly yet, so it is in danger from gulls and other predators. Therefore, it
waddles out of the burrow at night. When it sees the sparkling ocean, it flutters its wings as hard as it can and
leaps from its cliff. In a week or two it will be able to fly, but will stay out over water until it's grown up
and ready to nest itself.
People can approach fairly close to puffin and other seabird
Bruce McMillan wrote "Nights of the Pufflings", a true story about baby Atlantic Puffins and the children
of Heimaey, Iceland. When it's time to leave their nests, "the young birds become confused by the lights of
the town and land on the streets instead of on the water. The children rescue them from danger and release them
the next day at the water's edge," says McMillan. Check out photos from Mr. McMillan's recent trip back to
without disturbing them as long as they are careful where they step--and
careful to give the birds enough space to keep them from being frightened.
Children to the Rescue
Discussion of Challenge Question # 7
Last week we asked you to consider this:
Challenge Question # 7
""In many kinds of shorebirds, males do most, or even all, the work of raising the babies. In some species,
like phalaropes, males even incubate the eggs. Why do you think the shorebird family has so many males working
harder than females?"
Shorebirds undergo some of the longest migrations of any birds, and breed in the far north, which has the shortest
warm season of all. By the time they reach their breeding grounds, shorebirds have often depleted all their fat
reserves. It takes a lot of energy to prepare eggs for laying, and this depletes female bodies even more. Incubating
is another energy-intensive activity. Female birds that breed further south have plenty of time to lay eggs,
incubate, rear babies, and build up their strength again before they need to migrate. But the breeding season is
so short in the far north that if females did everything, they'd never have the opportunity to build up their body
fat before the return migration. The way shorebirds budget their parental duties, both sexes expend about the same
amount of energy, and can both recover in time for the journey south again.
by Silver Bay Elementary Student
Tom's River, N.J.
This is the FINAL Signs of Spring Update. Enjoy Your Summer!
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