National Wildlife Refuge System
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Tracking Birds and Bats in the Gulf of Maine

At Maine Coastal Islands National Wildlife Refuge, Pam Loring prepares to release a northern flicker she banded for a refuge monitoring project on migratory birds.
At Maine Coastal Islands National Wildlife Refuge, Pam Loring prepares to release a northern flicker she banded for a refuge monitoring project on migratory birds.
Credit: Kirk M. Rogers
A yellow warbler is one of many birds banded in the Maine Coastal Islands National Wildlife Refuge survey.
A yellow warbler is one of many birds banded in the Maine Coastal Islands National Wildlife Refuge survey.
Credit: USFWS

In several large-scale efforts, Maine Coastal Islands National Wildlife Refuge is monitoring the flight and feeding habits of birds and bats to help guide the placement of ocean energy projects, better predict the impacts of climate change and help the refuge prioritize habitat enhancement projects.

Concern over offshore wind turbines is prompting one effort. The Department of Energy has ranked the Maine coast as a prime wind resource area. By 2020, the state of Maine hopes to produce thousands of megawatts of wind power from turbines, on and off shore. The refuge hopes information generated by these efforts will lead to wind turbine placement that minimizes bird and bat deaths from collisions, stress and habitat destruction.

In partnership with the University of Maine, the National Park Service and Acadia University, the refuge is documenting bird and bat migration across the Gulf of Maine and Canada Maritime regions. At multiple sites in Maine and Nova Scotia, researchers captured and banded thousands of birds in spring and fall 2010, used marine radar to track birds by night, took acoustic recordings to identify birds and bats by calls and tracked individual bird movements using radio telemetry. Analysis of the acoustic data is expected this spring.

In a separate effort, refuge researchers attached small transmitters to foraging seabirds. Locating seabird foraging hotspots is the first step to understanding the dynamic marine ecosystem and how periodic fish scarcities impact reproductive success. The refuge is responsible for managing nearly half of Maine’s breeding colonies of terns and alcids — two categories of seabirds.

"Seabird productivity periodically declines on some islands, because the herring disappear and chicks starve," says Beth Goettel, manager of the Maine Coastal Islands Refuge. "We want to understand where birds are foraging, and what’s going on with fish in the Gulf of Maine."

Seven greater shearwaters were captured and fitted with satellite transmitters in August 2010, to track the birds’ locations as they flew from feeding site to feeding site in the Gulf of Maine and then migrated to their southern hemisphere nesting areas. An attempt to attach global positioning system units to nesting puffins worked less well: 13 of 14 birds scraped the tiny units off in days.

Learn more about the bird and bat study.

Learn more about the Maine Coastal Islands Refuge.

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