Wednesday, 15 May 2013

Yes we do have puffins

In a nutshell the latest on puffins on the island - We do have puffins, no, they are not extinct, but they have started breeding later and maybe the numbers are down a bit for which at the moment we aren't sure by how much but rest assured there are still plenty to see.

Puffins are such an iconic bird that with all the media coverage at the moment it is the one thing that everyone is asking us "how are the puffins?".
So the answer is as above, that the Isle of May is still one of the best and most accessible places to see puffins in the UK. There are so many factors that affect the numbers of puffins on the island on any one day in any one season that it can be hard to say how many will be there for a particular visit. The weather, time of day, condition that they came through the winter in, what stage in the breeding season, cycle of attendance and food availability all affect the numbers but on the island now things are settling down and the known  unknowns are starting to become known (thank you Donald Rumsfeld) !!. The last few days have been quiet for puffins but this morning there were a few more birds on the cliffs and lots more on the water so it looks like the cycle of attendance will mean that over the next few days there should be more on the island.
But what is the cycle of attendance? A number of seabirds species go through cycles of 4-5 days where the numbers drop and then build up again on the colonies. No-one knows exactly why but it is thought that it might be for a social reason. Any relationship and territorial issues are best sorted out when there are lots of birds on the colony so it works better if there are times when most of the birds are on land. But perhaps even more interesting is how does a colony of 45 000 pairs synchronise these movements? The researchers tell me that many factors have been looked at that the birds might use and the only one that seems to have an affect is atmospheric pressure. As the pressure drops then more birds come on to the colony - but what isn't known and can't really be found out is what sort of communication and information exchange is going on between puffins as they come and go from the island.Wouldn't it be great to know what is being said and how they do it? Another bird mystery waiting to be solved.

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