Acadia National Park Wildlife

Puffins in Acadia National Park

Puffins

Maine ocean islands provide the only nesting sites for Atlantic puffins in the United States. Eastern Egg Rock in the midcoast region, Seal Island and Matinicus Rock at the mouth of Penobscot Bay, and Machias Seal Island and Petit Manan Island off the downeast coast provide habitat for more than 4,000 puffins each summer.

The small, photogenic birds have a black back and head, white belly, orange legs and feet, a white face and a stout but powerful beak outlined in orange. Their white face and small black eyes give them the look of a clown with wings.

The best months to see puffins from tour boats are June and July, but excursions to the islands happen from May through August. Early in the day the birds can be seen flying between the nest and the water bringing food to their young, while late-day activity is more relaxed with loafing on the rocks or rafting together on the surface of the water.

Tour boats depart from Jonesport, Cutler, Bar Harbor, Millbridge, Stonington, Rockland, Boothbay Harbor, New Harbor and Port Clyde depending on which puffin colony you wish to visit. Some have naturalists on board to share details about the birds and their island homes. Machias Seal Island is the only island that visitors can land on and view puffins from close range behind blinds.

The Project Puffin Visitor Center in Rockland is a great place for people of all ages to learn about the puffin and experience hands-on exhibits.

Puffins are seen off the coast of Maine. You must take a boat to one of these islands. Puffins aren't seen on or from Mount Desert Island.

Intertidal and Subtital Zones

With over forty miles of rocky shoreline, Acadia National Park possesses a tremendously rich intertidal flora and fauna. Twice daily, the nutrient-rich marine waters cover these plants and animals. However, during the lower stages of the 10- to 12-foot tidal range, the ocean leaves behind pools of water inhabited by sea stars, dog whelks, blue mussels, sea cucumbers, rockweed, and other creatures and plants.

The coastal ocean waters surrounding Acadia are home to countless other animals, from clams and sea urchins to the commercially-prized lobster. Gulls and other seabirds wheel overhead, and marine mammals such as seals, whales, and porpoises often frequent the area. In the Gulf of Maine, species ranging from tiny phytoplankton to large fish make up the diverse yet precarious food web.

Peregrine Falcons

Behavior - feeding, strikes, nesting Field Marks - wings, head, size, feet, plumage Peregrine Watch - what to look for at the nesting cliff Overview

For centuries, peregrine falcons hunted the skies of the world, displaying their impressive in-flight hunting tactics. Imagine this crow-sized raptor flying high above its quarry, then diving ("stooping") to attack prey at a speed of more than 100 miles per hour! Imagine the prey being struck to the ground or even killed in flight by the tremendous impact from the peregrine's outstretched talons! Imagine witnessing a peregrine tail-chasing a dove between Dorr and Cadillac Mountains!

By the mid-1960s, researchers determined that peregrines were no longer a breeding species in the eastern United States. Nest robbing, trapping, and shooting first contributed to their downfall, followed in the 1950s by ingestion of chemical pesticides and industrial pollutants. Occupying a position high on the food chain, peregrines are still exposed to high levels of chemical residues if they migrate to or eat migrant song birds from countries using pesticides now banned in the United States. As in other birds of prey, ingested chemical toxins accumulate in their bodies, causing reproductive failure and leading to the decline and eventual endangerment of the species.

Conservation

When Congress passed the Endangered Species Act in 1973, mandating all federal agencies to protect endangered species and their habitats, Acadia National Park responded enthusiastically by participating in a cooperative management plan to restore a self-sustaining population of peregrines to the eastern United States. The Eastern Peregrine Falcon Reintroduction Program's goal has been to restore the peregrine population to 50 percent of the 350 pairs estimated to have been present in the Eastern United States during the 1940s. This program has been so successful that the peregrine falcon was removed from the federal endangered species list.

The method used to increase falcon populations is the reintroduction of captive-reared chicks into the wild, a process termed "hacking." Acadia first participated in the hacking program in 1984.

Selected adult birds are bred in captivity. The eggs are incubated and hatched in a laboratory. Chicks three to four weeks old are transferred to a location, called a hack site, where scientists hope to establish a new falcon territory. Once there, to prepare the chicks for release, they are kept several weeks in a protective wooden box with a view of the area.

Hack sites are staffed by trained specialists who carefully monitor, tend, and feed the chicks for approximately three weeks. Attendants observe only from a distance at this time. Food drops are made via a long, sloping tube, preventing the association of food with humans. When their wings are strong enough for flight, fledglings are released. The young falcons continue to eat at the hack site until they learn to hunt on their own.

Peregrines at Acadia

Peregrines nested on Mount Desert Island at least as long ago as 1936. The last known nesting pair was reported in 1956. From 1984 until 1986, 22 peregrine chicks were successfully hatched in Acadia National Park from a high cliff face overlooking Jordan Pond. Adult peregrines often return to areas near their original hack sites, which was the case at Acadia. When an adult peregrine returned to the site in 1987, the park discontinued the hacking program for fear that this adult would prey upon any released chicks.

From 1987 to 1990 adult peregrines returned to Acadia, but did not produce young. The first successful nesting at Acadia in 35 years occurred in 1991. Since that time, at least one and sometimes three other pairs have produced young in the park, bringing the total to more than 70 chicks.

Many of the young have been banded to learn about peregrine migration, habitat use, and longevity. One female banded in 1994 has nested in New Hampshire, and another in Boston.

Each year, in early spring, park resource managers watch intently for signs of returning peregrines. If mating or nesting behavior is observed, certain trails are temporarily closed to avoid disturbance to the nesting area. These measures are helping this magnificent falcon make a triumphant comeback in Acadia National Park, and contributing to the success story of the Endangered Species Act.

Behavior

Feeding: Hunts most vigorously at dawn and dusk in open areas like shores, marshes, and valleys. Hunting is often accompanied by a series of sharp, aggressive, territorial calls, "kee, kee, kee, kee, kee - kee, kee, kee, kee, kee." Plucks feathers from the prey as it feeds.

Strikes:

Usually in mid-air, knocking the quarry to the ground. Less commonly, it will strike and grab prey and fly away.

Nesting: Mostly on precipitous cliffs, but will also nest under suspension bridges and atop tall city buildings. Eggs are laid on a sand- or gravel-covered ledge with a depression that has been scratched in preparation for the clutch. This area is called a scrape.

Field Marks

Wings: Long, pointed, sickle shaped. All falcons in a dive appear to have sickle-shaped wings. Wing shapes depend on the degree to which the bird is soaring or diving. Be careful in making identifications.

Head:

Small with dark "sideburns"

Size:

Crow-sized, female larger than male

Feet:

Large (hence the nickname "big-footed falcon")

Adult and yellow

Immature and light green

Plumage:

Adult and White breast, dark gray back

Immature and Streaked breast, brown back You can help protect and promote the conservation of peregrine falcons by:

  • Learning characteristic field marks and behavior to make a positive identification.

  • Observing trail closures at the Precipice, East Face, and Jordan Cliffs Trails, and the northern section of the Flying Mountain Trail. Keep away from areas where peregrines are nesting and report any person who fails to do the same. Avoid observing the birds from a location higher than the nest site. Adult peregrines generally won't tolerate people above them and may dive at intruders, particularly if they are defending a nest or chicks.

Peregrine Watch:

What to Look for at the Nesting Cliff

March to Mid-April (courtship)

Adult falcons fly close to each other near the nesting cliff, feeding each other, and perform in-flight acrobatics. The falcons are most vocal at this time. Typical breeding vocalizations are: "chup, chup, chip" or "Eeee, chup chup chup chup."

Mid-April though May (nesting)

One falcon incubates eggs while the other hunts or perches nearby. Adults may exchange food in mid-air.

June

In early June, young falcons may be seen as "tiny white snowballs" at the edge of the nest cliff. Their markings will change as they mature. They may flap their wings to build strength for flight. They take their first flights in late June or early July.

July through August (fledging)

Young falcons practice flight, exploring farther afield. Watch for them flying above the cliff or other parts of the island. They may perch anywhere on the cliff's ledges or on dead trees.

Fall and Winter (migration)

Some of Acadia's peregrines may head south for the winter, while others may overwinter in Maine or other areas of New England, depending on the severity of the winter or the availability of prey. Peregrines from Greenland and Canada migrate through Mount Desert Island from August through October.

Mammals

Mount Desert offers an environment rich with the presence of somewhat shy and secretive wildlife. Many leave signs of their presence such as nipped-off twigs, scats, tracks, eggshells, shed hairs, or nut hulls.

Perhaps the most effective strategy for observing wildlife is to sit quietly for an hour or so in some secluded spot and wait for local species to declare themselves in the course of their daily lives. It may take repeated visits over many years to a variety of habitats to spot even half the species listed below, but the result is apt to be highly satisfying as a revelation of the hidden residents of the watersheds of Mount Desert Island.

BATS little brown myotis --caves, attics, barns, tunnels, hollow trees northern long-eared bat silver-haired bat--forested areas near lakes or streams big brown bat--buildings, bridges, caves, tunnels, hollow trees hoary bat--wooded areas where it roosts in trees 10 to 15 feet above ground (uncommon) Keen's myotis-- (uncommon) red bat--wooded areas where it roosts in trees 5 to 40 feet above ground (uncommon)

BEARS black bear (uncommon)

CANIDS coyote --edges of second growth forests, open brushy fields, forest openings red fox --prefers a mixture of forest and open areas

FELINES bobcat --mixed deciduous-coniferous and hardwood forests broken by fields and roads; (rare)

HARES snowshoe hare --woodlands with dense brushy understory; coniferous swamps

HOOFED BROWSERS white-tailed deer --forest edges, swamp borders, woods interspersed with fields moose --second-growth boreal forests with semi-open areas and swamps or lakes (uncommon)

RACCOONS raccoon --wooded areas interrupted by fields and water courses

RODENTS Eastern chipmunk--deciduous woodlands with abundant cover woodchuck --edges of woodlands, open cultivated land, pastures, meadows gray squirrel --deciduous and mixed forests red squirrel --coniferous, mixed, and occasionally deciduous forests Northern flying squirrel--mixed mature coniferous and deciduous forests beaver --slowly Flowing brooks, usually bordered by woodland deer mouse--coniferous or mixed forests, field borders, stone walls, out-buildings boreal red-backed vole--cool moist deciduous, mixed, or coniferous forests meadow vole --fields, pastures, orchards, marshes and meadows, swamps, bogs muskrat --marshes, shallow portions of lakes, ponds, swamps, streams, ditches house mouse--buildings, fields, corncribs meadow jumping mouse--moist, open grassy and brushy marshes and meadows white-footed mouse --forests and fields; not habitat specific woodland jumping mouse--brush and herbaceous vegetation in forests, near water porcupine --mixed or coniferous forests, especially northern hardwood-hemlock house mouse (uncommon) Norway rat--wherever food is abundant; waterfronts, farms, towns, dumps (uncommon) Southern flying squirrel (uncommon)

SHREWS AND MOLES masked shrew --woodlands with grasses, rocks, logs, or stumps; bogs water shrew--wet areas along ponds and streams in coniferous forests Northern short-tailed shrew --both timbered and fairly open habitats star-nosed mole --low wet ground near bodies of water short-tailed shrew hairy-tailed mole--open woods and meadows with light, sandy loam (uncommon) smokey mole (uncommon)

WEASELS ermine--wooded or open country with thickets, rock piles, and other heavy cover long-tailed weasel--open woods and woodland edges, grasslands, river bottomlands mink--streambanks, lakeshores, marshes striped skunk --semi-open country, woods and meadows, agricultural lands, suburbs river otter--borders of streams, lakes or other wetlands in forested areas.

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