Skomer Puffins - A Thriving Colony

Skomer Island, just off the Pembrokeshire coast in south-west Wales has a large colony of resident puffins.  This small and comical bird arrives in late April to nest in burrows atop the steep cliffs that are characteristic of the island.  

With their bright orange bills and orange legs with a distinct orange circle around the eye, these little characters stay on the island until late August.  The colouring to their bills will be shed over the winter while the puffin is  at sea within the Arctic Circle and around Iceland.

They feed on the sand eels that are found in the surrounding Irish Sea, sometimes travelling as far as 60 miles offshore to find a good catch of this little fish.  They also feed on other small fish and are known to dive to 30 metres.  

Their catch is sought after by the resident herring gulls who bombard the small puffins on their return, dislodging their catch with the hope of securing a free meal with minimal effort.  Stealth and good timing is needed by the puffins to ensure their hard earned meal makes it to the burrow.

The puffins line their burrows with plant material and twigs as well as feathers and any other materials that they can find and even after the eggs are laid they will continue to 'garden' and return to their burrows with padding, decoration and small gifts for their mates.  

They will use the same burrow each year and have the same mate.  Each year they will lay just one egg and so care off the puffling is essential to ensure the future of the species.  The pufflings are black and fluffy without the characteristic bill shape, but over winter this will become more colourful and chunky.  The pufflings will set off for the winter before their parents, who leave Skomer Island in late August.  Just think for a moment - pufflings leave for the winter, alone, having never left Skomer Island.  How do they know where they are going?

Life on the cliff top can become heated and these small birds are constantly bickering and jostling with each other.  There is always a lot of bill rubbing, a sign of affection between pairs, as well as full-blown squabbles.  Time spent watching their behaviour highlights how it seems to be common practice to make a deposit of guano down someone else's burrow.  Constant burrow maintenance occurs with sand being cleared as well as new deposits of guano.

All in all this puffin colony is a busy place, lots of coming and going with bickering and spats throughout the day.  At night it is a different world.  The puffins are quiet while the manx shearwaters come ashore to tend to their young and bring a haunting song that echoes over the puffin colony.

To visit this puffin colony is relatively easy.  Find out how to do it on my Skomer Island Guide