I will never forget the first time that I saw a puffin. I had travelled to Alaska, primarily to see Grizzly bears. My holiday would not have been complete without an excursion to the glaciers and so I booked an 8 hour cruise in Glacier Bay National Park. I was keen to see more bears and the glaciers carving into the sea but hadn’t given much thought to the prospect of seeing puffins. Actually, I hadn’t even known that there were any puffins there!
Cruising Glacier Bay
As the boat cruised past the amazing glaciers there were ice bergs floating past and sea otters bobbing up and down in the water. It was a wonderful experience which got even more exciting as we approached a small and rocky island. There were hundreds of colourful puffins on the rocks and it made for an incredible sight. I was surprised to find that I was captivated by these amazing birds.
Puffins Threatened with Extinction
Sadly, I have never seen another puffin. This shouldn’t come as any great surprise as these colourful birds are now threatened with extinction. 90% of the world’s puffins are to be found in Europe and I was interested to discover that Scotland is home to many of the birds. Now, a new project aims to save our puffin population by enabling us to know more about what they eat, where they go and what they feed their young.
The project involves fitting puffins with satellite tags so they can be tracked. The puffin population has been in sharp decline in recent years, probably due to predation by invasive species, climate change, pollution, food shortages and the birds being caught in fishing nets. If the trend continues up to 80% of Scottish puffins could be lost in the next 50 years.
The RSPB has been awarded funding by the Heritage Lottery Fund and this will finance a new study. GPS trackers will be fitted to 31 puffins at two sites in an attempt to learn more about the birds’ lives. There will also be surveys of several colonies. The RSPB is calling on the public to contribute to the study by sending in photographs of puffins feeding.
The data collected in the survey will help the RSPB to advise the Government on the best ways to protect the birds. Project Puffin should make a significant contribution to the preservation of this much-loved species. The RSPB is hoping that it will stimulate a renewed interest in these magnificent birds.
Parrots of the Sea
Have you ever seen a puffin? Often referred to as the parrots of the sea, they have brightly coloured beaks and distinctive markings. They generally live on islands and nest in burrows, under rocks and in cracks in the cliffs. They lay only one egg each year and their young are called pufflings. The pufflings remain hidden in their nests until they are strong enough to head out to sea. They don’t return to their nesting site until they are roughly 5 years old and are ready to breed themselves.
Hopefully Project Puffin will ensure that we are all able to enjoy sighting of these amazing birds for many years to come.