The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service announced Wednesday, Dec. 2, that the tufted puffin, a charismatic seabird on the North Pacific Ocean, does not warrant listing as threatened or endangered under the Endangered Species Act.
The tufted puffin is a small black bird with a distinctive white mask, bright orange bill and golden tuffs of feathers on either side of its head. According to U.S. Fish and Wildlife, it fishes the deep ocean for much of the year, but in summer months, can be seen nesting in burrows on island and cliffs along the coast.
“The most recent range-wide estimate of the species is approximately 3 million individuals, and about 82 percent of the known population appears to demonstrate stable or increasing trends,” U.S. Fish and Wildlife reported.
Climate change and oil spills pose the biggest threats to tufted puffins. The service’s status review found tufted puffins are undergoing a range contraction on the southern end of their range, but the species continues to be widely distributed across the northern part of its range and maintains high overall abundance.
"The tufted puffin is an essential member of the coastal and marine ecosystems in which it resides,” said Stewart Cogswell, supervisor of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Anchorage Fish and Wildlife Conservation Office, in a press release. “Although the species does not warrant listing under the Endangered Species Act, we will continue to work with others to monitor and conserve this iconic seabird throughout its range.”
John Underwood, board member of Friends of Haystack Rock, said because the tufted puffin is no longer listed, there is no additional protection or government funding for research. Friends of Haystack Rock fund the research of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Scientists have put together a strategy to identify puffins in the California Current. The research involves trying to determine if the puffins are a distinct population segment. Under the Endangered Species Act, a distinct population segment is a vertebrate population or groups of populations that is distinct from other populations of the species and significant in relation to the entire species.
“We think they are distinct enough to qualify for this segment,” Underwood said.
According to Friends of Haystack Rock, Haystack Rock is home to the largest tufted puffin breeding colony in Oregon. These seabirds show up to the rock in early April and spend about 16 weeks at the rock.
Underwood said puffin populations are still declining. The population of tufted puffins has decreased dramatically at Haystack Rock and is in significant decline or has disappeared entirely from colonies in California, Oregon, Washington, Japan and the Gulf of Alaska.
U.S. Fish and Wildlife lays out a grid on the rock at Haystack to observe the birds, showing every burrow used, Underwood added. There used to be thousands of puffins at the rock; now there are less than 100. U.S. Fish and Wildlife goes out to the rock 3-4 days a week and monitors when puffins are bringing food back to the burrows.
“They meet at the same location every year,” Underwood said of the puffins.
Underwood calls the puffins an icon of Cannon Beach. People come from all over to see the iconic bird. The Great Puffin Watch, held over the Fourth of July weekend brings hundreds of people. People traveling to the area for the holiday weekend learn about the event from going to the beach and brochures in various hotels.
“We get the opportunity to educate folks about the puffins,” Underwood said of the event.
People who attend this event can view the puffins with birding scopes and binoculars. Underwood said this helps people feel like they bond with the birds.
“We can’t let these birds disappear,” Underwood said.
Friends of Haystack Rock is actively raising funds to support research for the tufted puffins, as well as supporting other work done at Haystack Rock. To donate, visit http://friendsofhaystackrock.org/contribute/