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Sunday, September 28, 2014

Puffins in the British Isles

Puffins (Fratercula), with their colorful beaks during the breeding season and somewhat clownish appearance, are some of Britain's best-loved birds.

Puffin in The Shetland Islands, Scotland

Puffins are seabirds belonging to the auk family and have a predominately black and white plumage. Puffins in the UK are mostly found in a few sites in the north of England, Angelsey in Wales and Scotland.

Puffin in The Shetland Islands, Scotland

Some of the big breeding grounds for puffins in the UK are South Stack in Angelsey, Bempton Cliffs in North Yorkshire, St. Kilda in the Outer Hebrides, the Hermaness National Nature Reserve in Shetland, the Orkney islands and north Devon. Puffins also come to breed along the coasts of Ireland.

Puffin in The Shetland Islands, Scotland

There are believed to be over 580,000 breeding pairs of puffins in the UK. Puffins arrive here for the breeding season from March and April and stay until around mid-August, when they decamp for warmer climes.

Puffin in The Shetland Islands, Scotland

Puffins feed on fish and are particularly fond of sandeels, capelin and herrings. The beak of the puffin allows them to hold several fish at one time which they take back to their chicks.

Puffins in The Shetland Islands, Scotland

Puffins nest in colonies and prefer cliff sides and islands. The male bird of the Atlantic Puffin is responsible for building the nest, though Horned Puffins share this duty between the sexes. The female lays only a single egg during the breeding season. The nests are tunnels or rock crevices.

Puffins in The Shetland Islands, Scotland

Puffins were hunted in the 19th and early 20th centuries for their eggs, feathers and meat and are still taken in Iceland and the Faroe Islands, where hunting is legal. Gordon Ramsey, the celebrity chef, ate puffin hearts in Iceland, considered a local delicacy. The birds are trapped in nets using a technique called "sky fishing."

Puffin in The Shetland Islands, Scotland, United Kingdom

The Puffins seen in the photographs below are all Atlantic Puffins or Common Puffin. An adult specimen will weigh around 350-380g and have a wingspan or just over 50cm. Birds are about 32cm in length.

Puffin in The Shetland Islands, Scotland

Their colorful beaks lose their bright colours and become darker after the breeding season ends and the birds moult.

Puffin in The Shetland Islands, Scotland, UK

After the breeding season is over, puffins migrate to the open sea and do not return until the next year.

Puffin in The Shetland Islands, Scotland

Less is known about the life cycles of puffins when they are living on the open sea, where they are solitary.

Puffin on Orkney Island


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