SMOKINCHOICES (and other musings)

September 23, 2013

Kress’ Puffin contribution

STEPHEN KRESS    Stephen Kress reintroduced puffins to Eastern Egg Rock Island off the coast of Maine in 1973.

A man, a plan and an island of puffins

Bexley native honored for pioneering techniques to relocate sea birds


After three years of trying to persuade U.S. and Canadian fish and wildlife officials to back a plan to reintroduce a sea bird to an island off the Maine coast, Stephen Kress finally got his chance in 1973. Kress packed six puffin chicks from Newfoundland in coffee cans and took them to Eastern Egg Rock Island, where he fed them by hand and raised them as if he were their mother. At the time, the technique was untested and highly unorthodox. Today, Kress, known as the puffin man, is regarded as a pioneer of a conservation strategy used around the world to save sea birds from extinction.

This year, the National Audubon Society’s Project Puffin is celebrating its 40th anniversary. And on Tuesday, Kress will return to Columbus, his hometown, to discuss his work at the Grange Insurance Audubon Center.

“We were at the right place, at the right time, with a good idea,” Kress said during a recent phone interview.

“His story is amazing,” said Kristin Vargo, the center’s director. “It really shows what one individual can do.”

STEPHEN KRESS    About 100 nesting pairs of puffins return to Eastern Egg Rock Island each year.

The project got its unofficial start in 1969, after Kress earned a master’s degree in wildlife management at Ohio State University. He got a job with the National Audubon Society and traveled to its Hog Island Camp in Maine to work as an ornithology instructor.

It was there that he learned about nearby Eastern Egg Rock, an island that puffins once used as a breeding ground.

“They nested there until 1885, when the colony was wiped out by hunters,” Kress said. “They never came back.”

That’s when he came up with the idea to relocate the birds. While the practice is common today, wildlife officials back then weren’t so sure about Kress and his plans.

Hunting wiped out the native puffin population in 1885.

But after the success with those first six chicks, the project took off. Since then, Kress and his team have relocated more than 900 birds to Eastern Egg Rock.

“We had a long view,” he said. “Persistence was a big part of this.”

   *                       *                       *

Kress, 67, said his childhood in Bexley and central Ohio helped shape his devotion to conservation.

He said he spent his summers and his weekends in Blacklick Woods and other area Metro Parks.

“They had a program called the junior explorers … each weekend was a different topic,” Kress said. “‘Reptiles and amphibians’ was my favorite.”

He spent many childhood hikes with friend Mac Albin, who today is the Metro Parks’ aquatic ecologist.

“We were always seeing something new — frogs or salamanders or lizards,” Albin said. “He knows plants really well. He taught me the first plants I learned.”

Albin remembered seeing Project Puffin’s beginning.

“He had these big coffee cans that he and his dad gathered up to make a carrying case,” Albin said. They put (the puffin chicks) in these coffee cans with some herring to keep them alive on the way home.”

       *                        *                     *

At first, Project Puffin was an exercise in patience. The birds live on the ocean for three years before they seek a mate and nest. Then it takes five years before they reproduce.

The first birds returned to Eastern Egg Rock in 1977, drawn in by wood decoy puffins — another Kress idea. The first chicks hatched there in 1981.

Today, the colony has about 100 nesting pairs, and Kress has used similar techniques to colonize two other islands off Maine.

Atlantic puffin

Fratercula arctica

› Description: Males and females have stocky, round bodies with black backs and underwings, white breasts and faces and large colorful triangular bills with yellow and red-orange stripes.

› Range: Found in open water and small rocky islands off Maine, Newfoundland and Iceland.

› Size: Adults weigh about 13 ounces and are about 12.5 inches long with a 21-inch wingspan.

› Habitat: Between breeding seasons, the birds head for the high seas and remain offshore. When breeding, they favor treeless rocky islands where they dig nesting burrows.

› Life cycle: Can live longer than 30 years, but typically do not breed until they are at least 4. The birds are monogamous and a mated pair lays a single white egg in a burrow. The chick hatches in 40 days and flies off to sea after about six weeks. A fledgling puffin will not return to a nesting colony to look for a mate for several years.

› Typical diet: They hunt small schooling fish including capelin, herring and white hake, which they deliver to their young. Adult puffins dive underwater to eat their own food; their preferred diet is unknown.

Kress estimates that his techniques, which also include taped bird calls, have been used to successfully translocate 47 sea-bird species in at least 14 countries.

Last year, a number of Chinese crested terns, an endangered species, were lured away from colonies on the coast of China to a rocky islet in the East China Sea.

Dan Roby, an Oregon State University wildlife ecologist who worked on the project, said 19 Chinese crested terns flocked to the islet after hearing taped bird calls.

“That’s about half the known (Chinese crested tern) population,” Roby said.

Roby said he first used the techniques Kress pioneered to move a colony of 17,000 Caspian terns from the mouth of Oregon’s Columbia River. The terns were feasting on millions of salmon and steelhead raised in federal hatcheries. Tern decoys and taped bird calls lured the birds to East Sand Island, about 5 miles away. “The entire colony relocated in two years,” Roby said. Kress, now vice president of bird conservation for the National Audubon Society, said he’s pleased with his legacy. “When I started this project I thought it would last a few years, but it’s lasted a lifetime.”   @CDEnvironment

(When I find people like this man who has used his talents and abilities [obviously, innate], which the world  has recognized,  and then granted  to express his dream. . .  it should openly be praised for he is one creative man who has by his contribution, enriched our world.  Bravo!    Jan)


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