Puffin Watching on Machias Seal Island

One of my favorite experiences while living in Acadia National Park in Maine was when we went off and left the island to go to see the puffins at Machias Seal Island. Prior to working in Acadia NP, I had no idea what they were and then suddenly I’m working at a gift shop where there were we were surrounded by puffin merchandise. I was immediately a fan and probably should have started a fan club. I mean how can you not be? Have you not SEEN these adorable clown-like birds?
I became pretty obsessed quickly with them and I was told that the BEST place to spot these birds were on Machias Seal Island. There are several tours that venture onto the island, but I was told that the closest one was ran out of Jonesport by a company named Norton of Jonesport. The company has since gone out of business, but many other boating companies remain in Maine that take tours to Machias Seal Island. 
 
The reviews for this company were not the greatest. In fact, many people had negative experiences with the owner. This made me very anxious about the experience. We had to mail in a check for our reservation, which was fine, but we got no communication after that to let us know that she received the check. The answering machine told us to call the night before to confirm our reservation and make sure that the weather was working out in our favor. We left a message to confirm.
 
When we arrived she told me that she had not gotten our voicemail (that I clearly left), but we were “lucky” because she had space to bring us over. Annoying, obviously as we had the reservations and those spots were indeed ours. I’m pretty sure if I rolled my eyes anymore than I had they would be permanently stuck that way, but we were off on the adventure we paid for and reserved.
 
Jonesport is roughly 72.4 miles from our employee housing while working in Acadia NP. The tours leave at 6:30 am. That means two hours of driving just to see these birds. 
 
 
That was not it though. We did not arrive to Machias Seal Island until 9 am. We were on a small boat in the middle of the ocean for over two hours as well. Now that my friends, is devotion. Despite the distance, the fact that I am not an early morning person, motion sickness from the boat, and the fact that it costs close to an arm and a leg to get to Machias Seal Island, I was determined to see the puffins up close and personal. 
 
Speaking of small boats:
 
The Chief was our ride for the next 2+ hours on the way there and another 2+ hours on the way back. Hours worth of motion sickness later however, we arrived at Machias Seal Island to the see puffins.
Do you see that grey wooden box building in the picture below, located on the left side of the picture? Those are blinds. This makes it possible for us to see the puffins, but for them not the see us. This is very important since Machias Seal Island is a migratory bird sanctuary. It is home to the largest puffin population IN Maine. This allows the birds to come back to island on an annual basis to lay their eggs and feed their young before they take off. 
 

As we pulled up to the island we were instantly swarmed by puffins:

My view on puffins is that you can never have too many!


We got directed into the blinds to observe the birds that stay on the island. We ended up spending roughly an hour, give or take watching the puffins. 

Below are our very own pictures captured on the island:
 
 
 
 
 
 

One interesting fact about puffins is the fact that they “moo.” Here is video we shot at Machias Seal Island of the clown-like bird mooing:

We captured another video of the puffins walking around the boardwalk of Machias Seal Island:

After we got off the island it was back on the boat. I believe the distance from the island to Jonesport was 10 nautical miles. For some reason, we did not think of taking Dramamine before this trip, so on the way home we were inside the boat, laying down, sleeping, and trying to suppress the motion sickness that we were feeling. 

We left the island highly impressed with the amount of puffins we got to see up close, but craving some more! I wish that there was a way for us to have seen the birds up close without having to hide in a building in absolute silence, but that is the name of the game. They’re trying to build the puffin population and do not want to make them feel threatened. 

Here are some questions that I frequently get asked about my experience seeing puffins on Machias Seal Island in Maine. 

When is the right time to see the birds on Machias Seal Island?

In order to see the puffins you have to be there at the right time. The birds are only at land to lay their eggs, nest, and once the babies are big enough to fend for themselves they leave land. They nest and incubate the eggs in May and June/July. They fly back and forth from water to the nest to feed the babies (which is actually prime time to see them I’ve been told since they are constantly bringing back fish to their young). Tours book up fast to see puffins, so I’d call up a few and see if they have an opening.

 

Is Machias Seal Island the only place to see them from Bar Harbor, Maine?

You might be able to see puffins from a Bar Harbor tour, but I can’t vouch for how well the viewing is from a big boat. You can find out more about that here.  However, you are not guaranteed to see the birds here. You’d see more at Machias Seal Island than Bar Harbor because it is known as the “largest puffin colony in Maine.” I have not done any further research into other areas of Maine.

Why Machias Seal Island?

As stated above, we chose to go to this particular site because this is an actual reserve where puffins come every year like clockwork to lay their eggs and raise their young. The experience at this facility is great and probably the best you will get in the states.

Note: If you are looking for the money shot of the puffins with fish in their beaks, you will have to come in July once their eggs have hatched and they are feeding their young.

Have you caught the puffin bug? Do you have a favorite bird?

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