Maine Coast Heritage Trust, a statewide land conservation organization, has announced its donation of Hardhead Island in Penobscot Bay to the Maine Coastal Islands National Wildlife Refuge for ongoing management as a seabird nesting island.

“For decades, Hardhead Island has been on the list of most important seabird nesting islands needing long term protection and management. This is yet another case of where partnering with MCHT has been instrumental in achieving seabird nesting island conservation.” said Brian Benedict, Refuge Manager of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife’s Maine Coastal Islands National Wildlife Refuge. “Through active management we will work to return the full diversity of nesting seabirds to this incredible island.”

In addition to being a scenic landmark in upper Penobscot Bay, the roughly 6-acre island, known as Hardhead with its dramatic cliffs, and grassy upland, and steep elevations has a long history of being home to a variety of seabirds, including black guillemots; common eiders; common terns; double-crested cormorants; black-backed gulls; and herring gulls. Over 90 pairs of common terns have nested on the island within the past 10 years. In Maine, common terns nest on less than 20 of the 4,500 islands and ledges along the coast.

Maine sits squarely in the international migration path or ‘flyway’ for large numbers of birds traveling incredible distances each year between breeding grounds and wintering grounds. A number of Maine’s islands serve as vital stopping, nesting or feeding grounds for those populations that are on the move, or those that stay around. In recognition of that role, the Maine Coastal Islands National Wildlife Refuge was formed, which now contains more than 70 offshore islands and four coastal parcels, totaling more than 8,400 acres.

The refuge islands span over 250 miles of the Maine coast and support a tremendous diversity of wildlife. The majority of the islands within the refuge are considered nationally significant nesting islands, and support endangered and threatened species, colonial nesting seabirds, wading birds, and waterfowl. The diversity of upland habitats and the extensive inter-tidal habitats within this refuge combine to provide foraging, breeding, and migratory habitat for over 320 species of birds.

Since the initial formation of the refuge, islands have generally been added one at a time, each requiring its own set of conversations with landowners and other stakeholders, fundraising efforts and negotiations. MCHT has been a lead partner with the Refuge in conserving the identified islands over the years.

“It feels great to transfer Hardhead Island to the USFWS, so that they can make sure that it is always there ‘for the birds’,” reflects Ciona Ulbrich, senior project manager for MCHT. Hardhead Island was stewarded by one family over a number of generations, and that family eventually was ready to turn over the care of the island. “Landowners always are a key part of the success of this work”, notes Ulbrich, “to whom we always need to be grateful for their past care of the place, and their willingness to ensure the island’s future.” Also vital to this work are those who fund these projects, with each island acquisition pulled together thanks to funds from private donors, foundations, or government agencies.

“Over my years here at the Refuge, more than 60 islands have been added each island with its own history and its own story of conservation and how it was added to the refuge. Hardhead Island has been a priority for us since 2007 making this an extra special addition” said Benedict.