Puffin, petrel patrol busier than ever

Andrew
Andrew Robinson
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Almost 470 young birds rescued in Witless Bay area

This year’s patrol in the Witless Bay area for young puffin and petrel birds is off to a great start based on its first week.

Puffins at Witless Bay.

A record-setting 468 baby birds were rescued between Aug. 11 and Tuesday. That total exceeds the annual record set in 2012 of more than 460 birds.

Artificial lights are known to attract the young birds, who then place themselves in harm’s way on roads and highways, as well as in yards.

Atlantic puffins typically leave their nests in the Witless Bay Ecological Reserve in the late summer. Leach’s storm petrels do likewise in the fall.

According to Suzanne Dooley, co-executive director for the Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society’s Newfoundland and Labrador (CPAWS-NL) chapter, there are several contributing factors to the high number of rescues.

“One could be potentially the moon. As we know, the moon a few weeks ago was full, and now we haven’t seen the moon since. So therefore the puffins are probably attracted to the lights on land.”

Dooley also cites poor weather conditions and strong local awareness about the need to protect the young birds. Individuals, families and businesses have taken action to support the patrol, as has the Town of Witless Bay.

When birds are caught, they are stored overnight in special crates located in designated areas. Canadian Wildlife Services tags the birds in the morning, after which they are weighed and released back into the wild. CPAWS-NL helps facilitate the patrol. Most birds are rescued in Witless Bay, Bauline East and Tors Cove.

Last year’s patrol lasted until Sept. 5. Dooley expects the 2014 patrol will continue for at least another week.

New to the 2014 edition of the patrol is the introduction of coloured lights. According to Dooley, petrel birds in Hawaii were particularly attracted to bright residential lights. When those lights were switched to amber- and blue-coloured lights, there was a noticeable decline in the number of petrel birds coming in contact with those lights.

“We’re trying this with puffins to see if this actually works as well,” she said.

According to the Department of Environment and Conservation, the Witless Bay Ecological Reserve hosts more than 260,000 mating pairs of puffins during the nesting season and represents North America’s largest Atlantic puffin colony. More than 620,000 mating pairs of Leach’s storm petrel nest there.

arobinson@thetelegram.com

Twitter: @TeleAndrew

Organizations: Witless Bay Ecological Reserve, CPAWS-NL, Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society Wildlife Services Department of Environment and Conservation

Geographic location: Witless Bay, Newfoundland and Labrador, Witless Bay.When Bauline East Hawaii North America

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