Maine is one of the best places in the U.S. to see Atlantic puffins up close in their natural habitat. These colorful seabirds flock to Maine’s rocky coastline and islands from April to August to breed and raise their chicks before migrating back to sea. Witnessing the puffins’ clownish personalities, burrow nesting habits, and speedy flight maneuvers is an unforgettable experience for nature lovers of all ages. This guide will cover everything you need to know about viewing puffins in Maine, from when and where to see them to the top boat tours and land-based spots to maximize your chances.
When Can You See Puffins in Maine?
Atlantic puffins live most of their lives at sea and only come ashore in Maine in the summer to breed. The best time of year to spot puffins is typically between mid-April and late August. Here is a breakdown of the prime puffin viewing season in Maine:
- Mid-April to Mid-May – Puffins return after spending the winter at sea. Mating and house hunting get underway! Sightings start but aren’t yet at peak.
- Mid-May to Mid-June – Nesting season is in full swing. Puffin activity is high with courtship, digging burrows, egg laying, and incubating. Great time to see mating rituals.
- Mid-June to Mid-July – Puffin chicks hatch and are cared for by parents. Puffin watching is excellent as parents work hard to feed chicks.
- Mid-July to Late August – Chicks fledge, and puffins prepare to migrate back to sea for winter. Puffin numbers decrease but are still strong.
- September – Most puffins have left Maine waters for their winter grounds out at sea. Only stragglers remain. Sightings are hit or miss.
So for the most reliable puffin viewing, plan your trip between mid-April and late August, with June and July being prime puffin season. But sightings are possible even in early September if you get lucky!
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Best Puffin Tours and Cruises in Maine
You’ll need to take a boat tour or cruise to get close enough to observe puffins in action. Thankfully, Maine offers many puffin cruises departing from various towns. Here are some of the top puffin and wildlife tours by location:
Bar Harbor Puffin Tours
- Bar Harbor Whale Watch – 4-hour narrated trip to Egg Rock to view nesting puffins and other seabirds.
- Downeast Windjammer Cruises – Sails by Eastern Egg Rock hauling lobster traps. See puffins and lighthouses.
- Lulu Lobster Boat Rides – Personalized small boat tours checking lobster traps near Eastern Egg Rock’s puffin colony.
Puffins Food Table
|Puffins primarily eat small fish they catch while diving in the sea.
|Some puffin species also consume crustaceans like krill and shrimp.
|Occasionally, puffins may include squid in their diet.
Boothbay Puffin Trips
- Cap’n Fish’s Boat Trips – Popular narrated cruises to Eastern Egg Rock mixing puffin spotting with whale watching when in season.
- Balmy Days Cruises – 5-hour trip with up-close views of puffins on Eastern Egg Rock, plus a puffin expert onboard.
- Linekin Bay Boat Excursions – Morning and afternoon puffin-watching tours with ecologist guides. Tables/chairs for comfort.
Milbridge Puffin Excursions
- Bold Coast Charter Boat Tours – Zodiac boat trips to Petit Manan Island, known for the Atlantic’s largest puffin colony.
- Bar Harbor Whale Watch – All-day boat tour to Petit Manan Island, viewing thousands of puffins and other birds.
- Gouldsboro Bay Boat Tours – Half-day trips to Petit Manan to see puffins, seals, and porpoises. Family-owned.
Portland Puffin Cruises
- Maine Audubon Puffin Tours – Depart from Portland on a fast catamaran to Maine Audubon’s Puffin Project islands.
- Monhegan Boat Line – Take the ferry from Portland to Monhegan Island, with plentiful puffin sightings along the way.
- Casco Bay Lines – Hop on the ferry to Peaks Island for potential puffin sightings during the crossing and from shore.
No matter where you’re based in Maine, there are excellent boat tour options to get you close to the puffins!
Top Land Spots for Viewing Puffins
While most puffin viewing is done from the water, a few prime land locations offer views:
- Acadia National Park – Scope for puffins off Sand Beach and the Thunder Hole overlook from April to July.
- Quoddy Head State Park – Easternmost point; possible to spot puffin rafts offshore during summer.
- Marginal Way, Ogunquit – Walk the paved footpath overlooking the ocean to look for puffins and other seabirds.
- Marshall Point Lighthouse – Grounds offer views of Muscongus Bay to try spotting puffins.
- Maine Audubon Puffin Project Islands – Limited in-person viewing from shore on select open island days in summer.
These land spots allow you to see puffins, though viewing is much less reliable than via boat. Having binoculars and a spotting scope helps increase the odds. But even if you don’t spot puffins, the beautiful coastal scenery is a treat!
Puffin Viewing Ethics and Rules
When observing puffins, it’s essential to follow responsible viewing guidelines:
- Watch from a distance – Use binoculars and spotting scopes rather than approaching nests. Human disruption can cause nest abandonment.
- Don’t disturb or feed – Never try to touch, feed, or handle puffins. This puts stress on wild birds.
- Follow tour guidelines – Listen to guides on proper behavior near seabird nesting islands and colonies.
- Watch tidepools and cliffs cautiously – Be aware of your safety near steep shoreline edges and rocks.
- Photography rules – On tours, follow instructors’ directions regarding camera use so as not to startle or disturb wildlife.
Following these ethical birdwatching practices helps protect puffins and their fragile breeding habitats.
Fun Facts About Atlantic Puffins
Puffins have captivated people for centuries with their bright orange bills, erectile colorful beaks, waddling walks, and expert diving. Here are some fun facts about these charismatic seabirds:
- Puffins can have 400 wing flaps every minute, enabling speeds over 50 mph. They are speedy, agile fliers!
- Their bold black and white plumage has earned puffins the nickname “sea parrots” or “clowns of the sea.”
- Atlantic puffins nest in underground burrows on rocky cliffs and island slopes, using their orange beaks to shovel impressive burrows.
- Mates preen each other’s feathers and beaks as part of bonding rituals. They often return to the same burrow and mate year after year.
- Puffins can dive over 200 feet underwater using their stubby wings to “fly” as they hunt small fish like herring, hake, and sand lance.
- Tufts of feathers above their eyes are called “eyebrows” and grow longer during mating season. Theories suggest they attract mates.
- Despite a stocky build, puffins are surprisingly swift underwater swimmers who can sleep floating in the water.
- Most of the lives of puffins are spent at sea, only coming to shore in spring and summer to breed and raise one puffling chick.
Don’t be surprised if you are mesmerized by the puffins’ expressions, waddling walks, speedy dives, and affectionate mating behaviors. They are full of personality!
Puffins in Maine Table
|Over 5,000 pairs
|Over 1,000 pairs
Comparing Maine’s Puffin Colonies: Where to See the Most Puffins
Maine is fortunate to have several breeding colonies and restoration sites home to thousands of Atlantic puffins each summer. But if you’re seeking to see large numbers of puffins, these three colonies offer prime viewing opportunities:
Eastern Egg Rock Puffin Colony
- Overview – Treeless 7-acre granite island 8 miles off Maine’s midcoast populated by over 2,000 pairs of breeding puffins and various seabirds. Puffin restoration success story.
- Viewing Info – Boothbay, New Harbor, and Bar Harbor Boat tours provide close viewing opportunities. Strict regulations protect birds.
- Peak Time – Late May to early August.
- Experience – Get great looks at puffins coming and going from burrows, interacting, and flying over the water. Comparatively few tourists.
Matinicus Rock Puffin Colony
- Overview – Remote island 20+ miles offshore southern Maine, home to the world’s largest puffin colony. Over 5,000 pairs plus an array of seabirds. Strictly protected.
- Viewing Info – Only accessible by private boat or chartered flight. No landing allowed. Puffins are visible from the perimeter.
- Peak Time – Mid-May to late July.
- Experience – Witness seas of puffins congregating. Feel the remoteness of the particular offshore sites. Reliable puffin numbers.
Petit Manan Island Puffin Colony
- Overview – Small island off Maine’s Downeast coast that’s part of the Maine Coastal Islands National Wildlife Refuge. Boasts over 2,000 puffin pairs.
- Viewing Info – Daily summer puffin boat tours from Milbridge. Limited Refuge island landings are available.
- Peak Time – Mid-June to early August
- Experience – Get strikingly close looks at puffins via boat. Lower prices than Boothbay Tours. More family-oriented experience.
Any of these three renowned colonies offers an excellent Atlantic puffin experience. For convenience, Eastern Egg Rock has the most tour options departing from prime locations like Bar Harbor. But avid puffin fans may want to make the trek Downeast to see the plentiful populations on Petit Manan or remote Matinicus Rock.
Puffin Viewing Beyond Maine
While Maine hosts the only Atlantic puffin breeding colonies in the United States, puffins can be seen in several other places too:
Iceland and Norway – Abundant puffin colonies. Boat tours are available but more expensive and time-consuming than in Maine.
Canada – Newfoundland and Labrador have many puffins. Boat tours from places like Elliston, Mistaken Point, and Witless Bay.
U.K. – Colonies in Scotland, Wales, and England’s Isle of May. Boat trips often depart from coastal towns.
U.S. Pacific Coast – Tufted puffins nest along the Pacific in Alaska, Washington, Oregon, and Northern California.
New York – Rarely, Atlantic puffins wander into Long Island waters in winter and can be spotted from shore.
For most, the convenience and intimacy of viewing Atlantic puffins in Maine make it the top choice for an unforgettable puffin experience. But avid puffin lovers may want also to check out spots like Iceland, Norway, or Newfoundland to see different puffin species and behaviors.
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Experience Maine’s Beloved Puffins Up Close
With their colorful beaks, waddling walks, and speedy swimming, Atlantic puffins capture the imagination of nature lovers, young and old. These remarkable seabirds choose Maine’s islands and rocky shores as their sole breeding grounds in the U.S. By taking a narrated boat tour out to offshore nesting sites. You’ll observe puffins in their natural habitat – fishing, tending nests, and rearing chicks. There’s simply no better place to admire these clever birds. As you watch puffins soaring overhead and diving for fish, you’ll make memories to cherish forever. So book a puffin cruise today and check this magical Maine experience off your bucket list!
Maine’s rugged coastline provides the only Atlantic puffin breeding grounds in the contiguous United States, making it a birdwatcher’s paradise each summer. Through renowned boat tours from places like Bar Harbor and Milbridge, you can get close to puffin colonies and observe their nesting behaviors, fishing, and interactions. While seeing puffins on land is rare without a boat, this guide equips you with the best times, locations, tours, tips, and facts for viewing puffins in Maine. Now get out and experience these unique seabirds in their prime habitat!
Frequently Asked Questions About Puffins in Maine
Here are answers to some common questions about viewing puffins in Maine:
Q: Where are the best places to see puffins from land?
A: Acadia National Park, Quoddy Head State Park, Marginal Way in Ogunquit, Marshall Point Lighthouse, and Maine Audubon’s Puffin Project Islands offer the best land sighting chances.
Q: How early should I book a puffin tour?
A: Reserve for prime summer months at least 1-3 months in advance. Tours sell out quickly, especially in July. Book earlier for large groups.
Q: How long do puffin tours last?
A: Tour lengths range from 2 hours up to complete 8-10 hour days. Most popular tours are 4-5 hours, balancing viewing time and comfort.
Q: Should I bring binoculars?
A: Yes, binoculars are highly recommended to see details of puffins from the boat. Bring waterproof binoculars if possible.
Q: Are puffin tours suitable for kids?
A: Many tours accommodate children as young as 4-5. Choose a shorter or more kid-focused term. Boat rides alone often entertain kids.
Where are the most reliable places to see puffins in Maine?
The offshore islands like Eastern Egg Rock, Matinicus Rock, and Petit Manan, where tour boats take visitors, offer the best guarantee of seeing puffins up close.
What is the best month for puffin watching in Maine?
The prime puffin viewing season is typically mid-June through July when most puffins are present nesting and feeding chicks. But good sightings happen from May through early August.
Can you see puffins in Maine without taking a boat tour?
It is easier to spot puffins from shore in Maine if you have a high-powered scope. Boat tours are recommended to get close enough to observe them well.
How close do puffin tour boats get?
Responsible tour boats that follow wildlife guidelines get within several hundred feet, which allows excellent viewing through binoculars and cameras with zoom lenses.
Do puffins live in Bar Harbor, Maine?
Bar Harbor is a departure point for puffin tours to nearby islands like Eastern Egg Rock. Puffins do not nest right in Bar Harbor, but boat tours make sightings easily accessible.
Where are puffins in Acadia National Park?
No puffins nest in Acadia National Park. However, they can sometimes be spotted offshore from places like Sand Beach, Thunder Hole, and Cadillac Mountain. Sightings are sporadic.
How much does it cost to take a puffin tour in Maine?
Average costs are $50-$100 per adult for a half or full-day tour. There are options for budget and premium tours.
Are Atlantic puffins penguins?
No, puffins in the Alcidae family are a seabird related to auks, murres, guillemots, and more. Penguins are only found in the Southern Hemisphere.
Can you see puffins in Portland, Maine?
Portland is a departure point for puffin tours, but the birds don’t enter Portland’s waters. Your best bet is to take a boat tour to nearby islands.