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Maine ocean islands provide the only nesting sites for Atlantic puffins in the United States. Eastern Egg Rock in the midcoast region, Seal Island and Matinicus Rock at the mouth of Penobscot Bay, and Machias Seal Island and Petit Manan Island off the downeast coast provide habitat for more than 4,000 puffins each summer.
The small, photogenic birds have a black back and head, white belly, orange legs and feet, a white face and a stout but powerful beak outlined in orange. Their white face and small black eyes give them the look of a clown with wings.
The best months to see puffins from tour boats are June and July, but excursions to the islands happen from May through August. Early in the day the birds can be seen flying between the nest and the water bringing food to their young, while late-day activity is more relaxed with loafing on the rocks or rafting together on the surface of the water.
Tour boats depart from Jonesport, Cutler, Bar Harbor, Millbridge, Stonington, Rockland, Boothbay Harbor, New Harbor and Port Clyde depending on which puffin colony you wish to visit. Some have naturalists on board to share details about the birds and their island homes. Machias Seal Island is the only island that visitors can land on and view puffins from close range behind blinds.
The Project Puffin Visitor Center in Rockland is a great place for people of all ages to learn about the puffin and experience hands-on exhibits.