Puffins joined the International Union For Conservation of Nature Red List of Threatened Species along with eight other UK species in 2016 including the Lapwing. This means that they are as endangered as the African elephant. This is a concept that is hard to grasp when visiting one of our numerous colonies.
The UK has about 10% of the world population visiting in the summer months with them being found in large numbers on Shetland and Orkney, the Farne Islands, Bempton Cliffs and Skomer Island .
It is estimated by the RSPB that there are about 580,800 breeding pairs in the UK. Larger numbers are found in Norway and Iceland where numbers are also declining. The decline in numbers is mainly in juvenile birds who are not going on to breed successfully.
Puffins lay just one egg each year in an underground burrow. This leaves them vulnerable to predation from rats and mink. They lay a solitary egg each year and the loss of this egg through predation or death means the end of the pairs attempt to raise a puffling for the year .
Puffins eat a large number of small fish each day including sand eels, herring and sprats. Despite their obvious success at fishing there isn’t always enough food for all. This is mainly due to over-fishing in the seas surrounding their homes and the adult puffins having to travel further to find a suitable catch. They are also mobbed continually on their return by gulls, forcing them to leave their catch mid air or soon after returning to the burrows. Whilst this isn’t a massive problem for individual puffins over time the hijacked meals add up to a substantial loss for the colony and can lead to starvation for pufflings.
Outside of the breeding season the puffins are found in large rafts, floating on the open exposed Altlantic Ocean. They have adapted their feathers to be waterproof which allows survival in the frigid winter oceans. This protection is destroyed by oils and other pollutants in the seas which can ultimately lead to death.
One Less Puffin Chick
On Skomer Island a puffin brought its dead chick out of the burrow. An attempt to nudge life back into it was futile. The gulls, seeing the chance for a free meal mobbed the parent and took the chick. The harsh reality of the natural world and the end of parenting for this pair of puffins this season.