Research Spotlight Series: Colonial Seabird Monitoring in Atlantic Canada

By: Sabina Wilhelm, Canadian Wildlife Service

Posted April 17, 2018

Editor’s Note: In our Research Spotlight Series we shine a light on exciting research in our province. In this post we showcase the Canadian Wildlife Service.

Puffin research on Gull Island (Photo by Pierre Ryan).

The Canadian Wildlife Service (CWS) Colonial Seabird Monitoring Program focuses on assessing the population size and trends of 20 species of seabirds across the four Canadian Atlantic provinces, namely Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, Prince Edward Island, and Newfoundland and Labrador.  Over the past year, focus has been on continuing to update the status of major Leach’s Storm-Petrel colonies in the region in light of recent surveys having revealed that several of Newfoundland’s significant colonies, including Baccalieu Island, the world’s largest, have experienced declines of 40-50% over the past 20-30 years. In response to these declines, Bird Life International assessed this species as globally threatened and listed it as Vulnerable on the IUCN Red-List in December 2016.

Current efforts are also being placed on updating the status of major puffin colonies in Newfoundland and Labrador (specifically on the Gannet Islands which have not been surveyed since 2000 and host over 40,000 pairs), to assess the health of the regional population.  On a more local note, the 2017 breeding season appeared to be very favorable for puffins breeding in the Witless Bay Islands Seabird Ecological Reserve, Newfoundland, the largest puffin colony in the northwest Atlantic, with the most number of puffins rescued by the Puffin Patrol and the highest fledgling mass since the program was initiated in 2012.  To complement the data being collected through the Puffin Patrol, we initiated this past field season a long-term study site on Gull Island, Witless Bay, by permanently marking burrows and banding adults to monitor adult survival and productivity.  The 2017 field season also saw the conclusion of the three-year survey along Newfoundland’s coast to update the distribution and abundance of terns, gulls, kittiwakes and cormorant colonies.