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

Maine Project

Assessment of disturbance responses by gulls on a seabird nesting island in coastal Maine (collaborators: Fred Servello, John Sowles, Monika Parsons of UMaine)

January 2009 - December 2011


Participating Agencies

  • Maine Department of Marine Resources
  • Maine Aquaculture Innovation Center

There are no published studies of effects of aquaculture operations on seabird nesting islands in Maine or elsewhere. There is a relatively large body of literature on effects of human activities, specifically research and monitoring, on seabird behavior, however, these results are not directly applicable to aquaculture issues. Information on the “natural” patterns of variability in seabird behaviors are needed to develop study designs for determining effects of aquaculture operations in future studies. Traditional approaches using observers to study seabird behavior are not a good option because of logistical and funding constraints and need to minimize the confounding of effects of investigator and aquaculture disturbance. Remote monitoring tools (e.g., cameras, temperature sensors, movement monitoring) potentially provide a means to increase sample replicates while minimizing human-caused disturbance. Our study combines active observer and passive recording to document seabird activity on selected coastal islands during the nesting and brood-rearing periods. We studied behaviors of four species of seabirds, Black Guillemots (Cepphus grylle), Common Eiders (Somateria mollissima), Herring Gulls (Larus argentatus) and Great Black-backed Gulls (Larus marinus) nesting on Jordan’s Delight Island, Washington Co., Maine. We used a combination of temperature loggers, time-lapse cameras, and motion activated cameras to measure nest attendance of gulls and eiders and colony attendance of guillemots and gulls. We also conducted over 200 hours of observations to evaluate the utility of the remote monitoring equipment for detecting disturbance events and documenting typical disturbance regimens for this island. We will quantify the behavioral responses to different types of disturbances to help predict how birds will react to aquaculture activity and make recommendations on effective monitoring methods for assessing effects of an aquaculture facility placed near a breeding island. We also are developing methods to automate counts of flying gulls captured on digital photographs to improve efficiency of camera based monitoring. The objectives of our study are: 1) Document activity patterns and behavior during nesting and brood-rearing for selected seabird species to inform future studies about aquaculture-seabird interactions in Maine 2) Develop methods and techniques for monitoring selected seabird species to identify and document effects of aquaculture-related disturbance.

Theses and Dissertations Publication Date
Parsons, M. 2011. Developing methods to monitor seabird response to disturbance on a coastal Maine island. May 2011