MACHIAS (pronounced Ma-Chi-Us) SEAL ISLAND is a designated bird sanctuary because it hosts the major regional breeding colony of Atlantic Puffins and Razorbills, as well as lesser populations of Common Eiders, Leach's Storm Petrels, Common (Thin-Billed) Murres, Savannah Sparrows and Spotted Sandpipers.
Until very recently, it also hosted the largest regional colony of Arctic (and Common) Terns. Unproven but suspected food shortages and other envinronmental stresses caused complete reproduction failure from 2005 to 2014.
At least partly as the result of a gull control program, the Terns have begun to recover.
In 2014 there were a handful of Arctic Terns, not more than 12 to 16, which fledged successfully.
In 2015 there were over 100 successful fledgings.
In 2016 the Tern colony had another successful season, albeit not quite as good as 2015.
The 2016 season was disastrous for the Puffins with virtually zero survival for chicks.
2017 was a good year for both the Alcids and the Terns.
2018 was good for the Terns but not so good for the Alcids, in particular the Puffins. They developed very slowly and weights were less than desired. Many chicks took double the optimum time to fledge.
Because of the island's location and because historically it has been open to visitors, a limited number of tourists are permitted onto the island each day, for short periods, to view the colonial birds.
This gallery is a composite of several visits that shows what a visitor may expect. However, every day is unique and the number of birds present at any moment is effected by weather, food supply, point in their breeding cycle, predators, time of day and countless other factors, including visitor behavior. Visitors can expect to have good, close-up viewing of the Puffins and usually the other alcids as well.
Landings on the island may be shortened or prevented by adverse surf conditions and some days are cold and/or wet. All days are 10 to 15 degrees F cooler on the water than at the tour's departure point. Extra clothing is essential. Dress warm and dress dry.
There are currently two tour operators taking visitors to MSI.
Schedules and other specific information may be obtained directly from them through the following links.