Cooperative Fish and Wildlife Research Units Program: Oregon
Education, Research and Technical Assistance for Managing Our Natural Resources

Oregon Project

Spatial Analysis of Trends in Tufted Puffin (Fratercula cirrhata) Breeding Habitat on the Oregon Coast

September 2021 - September 2023


Participating Agencies

  • USFWS Western Region
Students and USFWS employees conduct vegetation surveys on Oregon Islands NWR

Tufted puffins (Fratercula cirrhata) are an iconic species in the Pacific Northwest that provide a wide range of ecological, economic, and historically important services such as ecotourism for local communities and bringing marine derived nutrients to terrestrial habitats. Further, tufted puffins are sensitive to changes in prey availability and as such, are good indicators of overfishing and ecosystem disturbance. Tufted puffin populations on the Oregon Coast have declined dramatically from over 5,000 birds in 1989 to 550 birds in 2021. In 2018, the Tufted Puffin Species Status Assessment (SSA) determined that factors related to breeding site conditions are one possible cause of puffin decline; however, little is known about the specific characteristics of nesting habitat along the Oregon coast, or how it relates to their population demographics. To address this knowledge gap, we conducted a field study and a spatial analysis to examine the distribution of suitable breeding habitat for Tufted Puffins on the Oregon Islands National Wildlife Refuge, OR. We compared the topography, vegetation, and percent cover of Tufted Puffin breeding sites from 1971 to 2021 using aerial photos, data from the National Agriculture Imagery Program (NAIP), other remote sensing data sets, and on-the-ground surveys. It is expected that the vegetation on nesting sites has changed over time due to site-specific, climatic, and environmental variables. Assessing how suitable puffin breeding habitat characteristics have changed over time will provide necessary information to guide refuge managers in habitat restoration and support adaptive management decisions.