For most ground-nesting seabirds, offshore islands usually serve as refuges from mammalian predators, however, introduced predators pose a substantial threat to many species. In New England, thousands of Herring Gulls (Larus argentatus) and Great Black-backed Gulls (L. marinus) breed on hundreds of coastal islands. The Isles of Shoals (New Hampshire/Maine) archipelago has some of the largest colonies of both gull species in New England. In 2004, we noted unusually large numbers of failed nests on Appledore Island, Maine and hypothesized that Raccoons (Procyon lotor) were the cause. Therefore, we quantified egg and chick mortality and documented the presence of Raccoons. We trapped Raccoons on Appledore and Smuttynose islands and conducted nest surveys on these and two other islands in the Isles of Shoals. Surveys of marked nests on Appledore Island revealed high levels of egg and chick mortality in early June 2004; by late June 58% of nests were empty. We also found that on Appledore and Smuttynose, where Raccoons were observed, the odds that a nest would be empty were 17 times greater than on Lunging or Duck Islands where no Raccoons were observed. During 2004, eleven Raccoons were trapped off of Appledore and Smuttynose Islands. A survey of nests in 2005 showed that gull breeding success increased significantly on Appledore and Smuttynose islands, whereas there was no significant change in the relatively high ratio of chicks to nests from 2004 to 2005 on Lunging Island where Raccoons were not observed. Thus, we concluded that the presence of a few Raccoons on Appledore and Smuttynose islands was sufficient to cause substantial breeding failure in large colonies of larids.
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Vol. 30 • No. 3