Sunday, 9 March 2014


Puffins should soon be back on the Shetland cliffs and they are always great to see. Many Puffins were caught up in the severe storms which hit the bay of Biscay last week. Counts of Puffins on the beaches of France near the Spanish boarder found over 12,000 dead individuals amongst over 21,000 seabirds. Most of these were just about to start the long journey back to the breeding colonies in the norther of Britain. Ringed birds for Shetland were found amongst the dead birds.

Puffins have been having a very bad time in recent years and numbers have declined. This is down to the lack of sand eels, which in the 1980-2000 were caught in the 1,000's. This has now been stopped in British waters but still continues in Norway and Iceland. Its hard to believe that the sand eels are only used for cat and dog food, surly they could find some other food source and leave the eels alone. Another problem is that sand eels have changed their habits as a result of the sea warming. Now the are diving deeper as they prefer cooler waters

Very few young survive in Shetland  as a result of a food shortage and it has become a rare sight to see a Puffin coming in with a beak full of sand eels to feed young birds.. The puffin cam located on Sumburgh head is a great way to see Puffins underground, this secret life is revealed but also during the past three years that this has been in place no young have survive. Lets hope 2014 is a better year, and a year to celebrate the opening of  the new RSPB centre at Sumburgh head, this has cost more than £4.25 Million and is due to be complete in a few months.

A year ago we were watching Puffins at Sumburgh head when two Americans got out of a taxi, looked over the edge of the cliffs and commented that the penguins looked cute and got straight back in the car and drove off before we could say anything. Also due to the small size of the adult Puffins many people think they are young birds until its pointed out. Just shows you how many people get confused looking at common birds !!

We love to hear them calling, its call an easy one to remember. The colours on the beak are spectacular, but have you ever seen one open its mouth to reveal the orange inner mouth. This is how close you can get to them at Sumburgh, Noss or Hermaness

To reinforce the pair bond they do alot of beak clattering, others watch and are drawn in then they get too close and a fight starts with birds tumbling down the cliff face with wings outstretched. After this the start digging and many have dirty faces and after this its about egg laying and trying to raise young. Both adult birds are often away trying to find food. But even if they do find the odd sand eel they risk attacks by Artic Skua, Gt Skua and other gulls - its a hard life.

You can then start to understand why large numbers are being found dead, they have not found enough food to sustain them through the harsh winters, body weight is down and they are in poor condition. To try a live out at sea from about August - late February / early March must be very hard for any bird

No comments:

Post a Comment