Puffin Chicks in Gulf of Maine Dying at Record Rate

The gulf's largest colony of puffins is in peril, as a dwindling food supply leaves the little ones going hungry.

An enormous Atlantic puffin population in the Gulf of Maine is experiencing the worst die-off of chicks ever documented, the Portland Press Herald reports.

Chicks on Machias Seal Island, which is home to some 6,000 puffins, are dying of starvation in their burrows, the site reports. That's thanks to a decreased fish supply in the waters in which the parents forage for food to bring back to the newborns. The net result? Just 12% of nests are producing healthy chicks that fledge normally, down from a more normal 60%.

However, chicks in that group were smaller than normal, and an expert interviewed by the site did not expect them to live long enough to breed.

RELATED: Atlantic Puffins at Increased Risk of Extinction

Atlantic puffins reside from Maine northward to Iceland, Greenland, and Norway. The seabirds live along those mainlands as well as many islands in the North Atlantic. They eat fish almost exclusively and can even swim underwater for about one minute while snaring fish.

A potential culprit in the die-off could be warming waters, which are supplying less of the birds' preferred fish and more of lesser-nutritious, warmer-water fish.

Scientists could not even put tracking bands on this summer's nestlings, a common practice in better times.

"But we couldn't this year because the chicks' legs were too small to hold a band," researcher Tony Diamond, of the University of New Brunswick, told the paper. "We have never seen fledgling weights like this before."

WATCH VIDEO: Why Some Birds Don't Migrate