Atlantic Puffins and other Maine seabirds suffered from intense hunting for their eggs, meat and feathers for nearly 300 years following colonial days.† By the mid 1800ís, their numbers already greatly reduced, fashion trends began to dictate decorative feathers for hats and other fine ladies fashions.† Maine seabird populations were nearly dealt a final coupe de grace by major campaigns to collect feathers for the Boston and New York millinery trade.† In 1900, at their lowest ebb, eiders, cormorants, gannets, murres, and Great Black-back Gulls were completely eliminated from the Maine coast.
Public outrage over the declining bird numbers had begun building in the late 1800ís and eventually led to the formation of Audubon societies which worked for the passage of protective laws.† Maine passed its first bird protection law in 1901, and a federal treaty between the United States and Great Britain (on behalf of Canada) gave further protection in 1916 [CHECK THIS DATE].† These laws, combined with a general decline in the human population on islands and protection afforded by Audubon wardens, gave some seabirds a chance to reclaim former offshore nesting habitats.
Common Eiders, Herring Gulls, Great Black-backed Gulls, and Double-crested Cormorants expanded their range back to many of their historic nesting spots during the 1930-1960 period and are now well established on many Maine islands.† By the early 1970's, some species such as Atlantic Puffins, Leachís Storm-petrel, Northern Gannet, and Common Murres had yet to recover from the havoc of the 1800ís.† Arctic, Common, and Roseate Terns declined during the recovery of gulls over the past fifty years as Herring and Great Black-backed Gulls crowded them off of most of their nesting islands.
Atlantic Puffins once nested on at least six islands from mid-coast Maine to the Canadian border.† They prefer remote, offshore islands, especially those free from mammal predators and where there are great jumbles of granite boulders under which they can nest.† Puffins lay only one egg each year and donít usually breed until they are five years old.† This late breeding age and low productivity level, coupled with restricted nesting habitat make them very vulnerable to hunting and human disturbance.
By 1902, only one pair remained at Matinicus Rock (22 miles offshore from Rockland). Although the number nesting at Matinicus Rock had increased to about 100 pairs by the early 1970ís, puffins had not reclaimed any other of their former Maine nesting islands.