Nfld. & Labrador

Thousands pitch in to rescue puffins near Witless Bay

The so-called Puffin Patrol in Witless Bay has released 150 Atlantic puffin and petrel chicks into the wild so far this summer, providing a boost to young seabirds who get lost because of man-made lighting.
After rescuing puffins who have become disoriented and moved inland, people release the tagged birds back into the wild from the shores near Witless Bay. (Submitted by Sebastien Despres)

A group of volunteers called the Puffin Patrol has released 150 Atlantic puffin and petrel chicks into the wild so far this summer, providing a boost to young seabirds who get lost because of man-made lighting. 

The patrol, established more than a decade ago, rescues lost sea birds along the coast of Newfoundland's Avalon Peninsula. 

"This is a full community-wide effort, and involves thousands of people in the summer," said Sebastien Despres, mayor of Witless Bay, home to North America's largest colony of Atlantic puffins.

The chicks become disoriented from artificial lighting along the coastline, and end up on roads and other places that can be dangerous for them.

The releases are a popular event for all ages, and attract tourists and locals alike. (Submitted by Sebastian Despres)

Witless Bay Mayor Sebastien Despres says the group has been averaging 30 releases a day, since the pufflings began to fledge — or leave the nest — last week.

"They go out and rescue these birds that have been distracted by the lights," he said.

"Then the next morning, we have the Canadian Parks and Wildlife Society who band them and measure them, weigh them, and then they're released back into nature, hoping to make it out to sea this time."

Depres said the patrol has rescued more than 2,000 chicks over the last 10 years.

He said since the Puffin Patrol started banding puffins, volunteers have never caught the same bird twice.

"That's great news because the puffin's job, once it's released, is to head out to sea for five years."

The small birds breed mostly along Newfoundland's coastline, only giving birth to one egg per year — generally during the summer months. 

Witless Bay Mayor Sebastien Despres said since they started rescuing and tagging the puffins a decade ago, they've never caught the same bird twice. (Submitted by Sebastien Despres)

Depres said the amount of people pitching in to help save the birds is amazing to see.

"The releases are incredible to see, so that attracts people from all over the world. Just this morning, we had people from Louisiana, Tennessee, Ontario, British Columbia and more."


To encourage thoughtful and respectful conversations, first and last names will appear with each submission to CBC/Radio-Canada's online communities (except in children and youth-oriented communities). Pseudonyms will no longer be permitted.

By submitting a comment, you accept that CBC has the right to reproduce and publish that comment in whole or in part, in any manner CBC chooses. Please note that CBC does not endorse the opinions expressed in comments. Comments on this story are moderated according to our Submission Guidelines. Comments are welcome while open. We reserve the right to close comments at any time.

Become a CBC Account Holder

Join the conversation  Create account

Already have an account?