They might not be in the immediate vicinity but that doesn’t stop us loving puffins, or sea parrots as they are commonly known in Scotland. These colourful beaked clowns are part of the auk family and while they may be cute looking they are brave and hardy birds.
As they spend their winters out at sea, the best time to catch sight of an Atlantic puffin is during spring and summer - and the easiest way to do this is to schedule a trip to a breeding colony. The closest colonies to us are on Lunga and Staffa, just off of Mull, and the odd bird has been seen as far south as the nearby Sound of Jura.
In March and April, adult puffins begin to return to their cliff-top breeding colonies, and they fly off again in mid-August. Puffins mate for life, separating in winter and returning to find each other at their nesting site each year. Parents spend the summer catching fish to feed to their hungry puffling in its burrow. Their preferred fish is a sand eel and they can carry up to six of them in their bills at once. They have spikes on the inside of their upper bill that they can push the fish onto with their tongues, spearing it so they can keep opening their mouths to hunt without dropping any.
After hatching, the puffling remains safely below ground for six weeks before heading to sea under cover of darkness to avoid gulls and skuas.
If you are going to try and visit a colony remember these things:
- Approach the puffin groups slowly and quietly and do NOT get too close. If you stay at a safe distance you will hopefully be able to watch them moving around, investigating burrows, socialising, fighting and maybe even posturing.
- Never, ever interfere – it’s nature after all. Especially don’t get in the way of fish-carriers as they are taking vital sustenance to their young.
- Look for two birds ‘billing’ by repeatedly and loudly hitting their beaks together. It is believed this is a pairing strengthening their bond. The behaviour can also attract a crowd of other puffins, one of which may try to join in. A fight can break out if the onlooker is rejected.
Need a monthly puffin fix? The Puffins 2020 Calendar is perfect for you!
Looked at them and thought “You’re so cute, I just want to cuddle you!”, well go for the next best, and definitely safest, thing and have squishy Jellycat Bashful Puffin snuggle.
Sit him on your mantelpiece and give him a cliff edge in your home - Archipelago Puffin Preening.
Support the RSPB, take a puffin with you to the shops and look cool doing it with the RSPB Puffin Pouch.