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.
|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|