April 06, 2020
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The man who brought puffins back to Maine’s islands is retiring

Brian Feulner | BDN
Brian Feulner | BDN
Stephen Kress

The man who led a decadeslong effort to help Atlantic puffins reestablish populations on islands off the coast of Maine is retiring from his role at the National Audubon Society at the end of September.

The career of Stephen Kress, who serves as executive director of Seabird Restoration Program, as well as the vice president of bird conservation at the National Audubon Society, was celebrated at an Aug. 23 event, in advance of his retirement.

Earlier this month, during a visit to Eastern Egg Rock, Audubon director of conservation science Donald Lyons summed up Kress’s accomplishments succinctly.

“Steve’s responsible for bringing the puffins back after they were gone for over 100 years,” Lyons said.

The job wasn’t easy, and the efforts continue today.

“We translocated about 1,000 puffin chicks from Newfoundland to Eastern Egg Rock, starting in 1973. First with six, then 50, then 100, then eventually between 1973 and 1986, about 1,000,” Kress said. “They were hand-reared in burrows. They were about a week old when they came and about six weeks old when they left. We took the place of their parents for the interim five weeks. Then they headed off to sea, and some of them remembered to come home.”

Brian Feulner | BDN
Brian Feulner | BDN
Stephen Kress, the founder of Project Puffin, talks about the ongoing research of puffins on Eastern Egg Rock in Muscongus Bay, about 6 miles east of Pemaquid Point, in this July 3, 2013, file photo.

Now, 46 years later, there are plenty of puffins on Eastern Egg Rock. But the success of the reintroduction is tenuous, and those birds need some help from Kress’s team of human researchers.

“This vision of creating a self-sustaining colony was what I had initially hoped to do. We have managed to reboot this colony, reinsert puffins and terns and other species to the ecology, but it’s only successful if we keep people living on the island,” Kress said. “The notion of some sort of balance that is island-specific doesn’t really apply in this day and age because Egg Rock is linked to everything around it, including the little fish, and the climate, and everything else.”

According to an Audubon press release, Kress earned recognition for his “social attraction” technique, using bird decoys, sound recordings and mirrors to attract and reintroduce puffins to Eastern Egg Rock, and helped grow the population of puffins on five coastal Maine islands to more than 1,000 nesting pairs.

Lyons will step forward to lead the seabird restoration program after Kress’s retirement. He has been working alongside Kress for the past year, after having spent the previous 20 years at Oregon State University, working on seabird science and conservation.

The NAS also announced that a $1 million donation from an anonymous member of its board of directors will enable the society to build on Kress’s legacy through a new Seabird Institute.

Watch: What makes puffins so great

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