#11: The Birds of the Bay

Since its my first time in Lubec for the Bay of Fundy field season, I was pretty excited for what sightings were in store for me! Although I’ve already had experience with right whales, mainly flying aerial surveys, I was excited to see the whales from a different perspective. I was also interested to see the different kinds of birds that lived in the waters of the Bay of Fundy.

Many of the birds we see on our surveys are familiar to us from the waters near Boston. We saw Great shearwaters, as well as a few Sooty shearwaters, a group of birds that get their name from their characteristic shearing flight just above the surface of the water.

Great shearwater gliding above the surface in the early morning calm. 
Photo: Philip Hamilton

Shearwaters are found in the western North Atlantic for a few months in the summertime, and feed mainly on small fish--so they are often found near large whales, like the humpbacks we’ve seen on recent surveys. 

This Great shearwater must have thought we had fish on board when it joined us for lunch! 
Photo: Orla O’Brien

We’ve also seen large groups of much smaller birds, storm petrels! These delicate birds are actually related to the larger shearwaters; they are in the same order Procellariformes, commonly called tubenoses. The tubenoses get their name from their pronounced nostrils enclosed in tubes at the top of their bill. The birds can drink seawater, and they extract the salt using a special gland, excreting it through the tube. 

Storm-petrel on a search for plankton. 
Photo: Orla O’Brien

Storm-petrels (and other tubenoses) also have a sense of smell, rare among birds, that allows them to find and exploit patchy food resources. They mainly feed on plankton, and Wilson’s storm-petrels in particular can often be seen “dancing” on the water, picking out bits of plankton from the water’s surface. Since they feed on the same type of food as the right whales, we’re hoping that the fact that we’ve seen such large numbers of them means that there is plenty of food for the whales, too!

Wilson’s storm-petrel “dancing” on the water. 
Photo: Orla O’Brien

Another small bird we’ve been seeing a lot of are Red and Red-necked phalaropes. Since we are usually fairly far from shore, you might be surprised to find out that these birds are actually a type of sandpiper, birds that are more commonly found along shorelines! However, these birds migrate through open ocean from their breeding grounds. We’ve noticed a lot of large groups of phalaropes sitting on the water, where they pick insect larvae from the water. 

Red phalarope taking off as the Neried passes by. 
Photo: Orla O’Brien

A real treat for many of us that spend most of our time in the Boston area are the alcids we see in the Bay of Fundy. The most recognizable bird from this family is the Atlantic puffin, which we’ve gotten great opportunities to observe so far. 

Atlantic puffin cruising by. 
Photo: NEAq/Orla O’Brien

We’ve also sighted many Black guillemots, and some Razorbills--both puffin relatives. If you were lucky enough to see these birds further south, they would probably be in their basic (non-breeding) plumage, so it has been a real treat for me to see them all in their summer finest!

Juvenile Razorbill swims behind an adult in breeding plumage. 
Photo: Orla O’Brien

Overall, it seems like theres no shortage of life in the Bay, so hopefully its an omen of whales to come! 


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