“Troppy” is Late this Year

On July 11, 2005, or perhaps July 5 (the records conflict), a tourist boat, skippered by Captain Andy Patterson, left Cutler, Maine to see Puffins.  While there are many Atlantic Puffin cruises along the Maine Coast, Patterson’s is unique as it offers clientel the opportunity to land on a Puffin breeding Island and walk among the birds.

What made this trip different than the countless other trips made over the years, was the sighting of a Red-billed Tropicbird soaring over Machais Seal Island!!!   Simultaneously, lighthouse keeper Ralph Eldridge identified the bird.

Red-billed Tropicbirds breed in the Caribbean during the Northern Hemisphere’s winter season. So it was amazing that one has made the 2,000-mile journey to an island on the Maine/Canadian border.

The following year, “Troppy” was seen on and around Matinicus Rock (roughly 100 miles to the south) and again in 2007 and 2008.

In 2009, this amazing bird of the tropics took up residence a few miles further north on Seal Island, a rocky outcrop once used by the military for bombing practice and the home of hundreds of nesting Puffins, Razorbills and Terns.

Since then, Maine’s celebrity bird has returned to his Seal Island den (a slit under a boulder) where he has thrilled the summer resident researchers and a few lucky birders who managed to travel the 20 miles from the Maine coast.

During most of the day, “Troppy” is rarely seen, emerging from his den in the late afternoon, circling the island and taking a bath in the water.  Then he will disappear out over the ocean, often for several days at a time.  

It is assumed that these are foraging/hunting trips but no one has ever seen this Red-billed Tropicbird eat anything.

This species’s normal breeding season is December-to-March, and since “Troppy” leaves his summer home in mid-August each year, he may be mating in the Caribbean.  Still he has been seen trying to mate with lobster buoys and a Red-billed Tropicbird decoy.

Last summer (2021), Ingrid and I saw “Troppy” after multiple attempts of a couple years.  He looked around the island several times, made passes over the boat and even serenaded us with its harsh, grating display song.

Sadly, at this writing, our celebrity bird has not returned to Maine for its 18th season.  According to Doug Hitchcox of Maine Audubon, the oldest Red-billed Tropicbird on record is a banded bird that lived to be 17 years and 7 months.  A similar species, the Red-tailed Tropicbird, have been known to live to 32 years of age.  It was hoped that “Troppy” might have another dozen summer visits left in him.

As you can see by the attached table, “Troppy” is very late this year.  If he does return, he’ll be the oldest Red-billed Tropicbird ever reported.

Year Sighting Date Location Who
2005 Tuesday, July 5, 2005 Machais Seal Island Andy Patterson’s boat from Cutler
2006 Wednesday, July 5, 2006 Matinicus Rock Project Puffin
2007 Tuesday, May 8, 2007 Matinicus Rock Robby Lambert
2008 Tuesday, May 27, 2008 Matinicus Rock Project Puffin
2009 Wednesday, May 20, 2009 Seal Island Project Puffin
2010 Friday, May 21, 2010 Seal Island Project Puffin
2011 Wednesday, May 25, 2011 Seal Island Project Puffin
2012 Saturday, May 12, 2012 Seal Island Project Puffin
2013 Tuesday, May 14, 2013 Seal Island Jenny Howard and Adam Dinuovo
2014 Wednesday, May 21, 2014 Seal Island Julia Gulka and Edward Jenkins
2015 Saturday, May 16, 2015 Seal Island Keenan Yakola
2016 Thursday, May 12, 2016 Seal Island Keenan Yakola
2017 Sunday, May 7, 2017 Seal Island Keenan Yakola
2018 Tuesday, May 8, 2018 Seal Island Keenan Yakola
2019 Tuesday, May 7, 2019 Seal Island Keenan Yakola
2020 Sunday, May 17, 2020 Seal Island Keenan Yakola
2021 Thursday, May 6, 2021 Seal Island Keenan Yakola

Fingers crossed. 

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