Sunday, 2 June 2013

How many puffins do we have on the Isle of May?

The results are in and I can formally announce that we have 46 000 pairs of puffins breeding on the Isle of May NNR this season give or take a few thousand.

We (CEH do the counting, SNH commission the count) count the breeding puffins every 5 years on the island (it is a big job) and after the puffin wreck earlier in the year it seemed especially good fortune that this year was a puffin count year as we might see what effect the mass mortality had on the population. The counts take a lot of effort to process to make sure that the figures are correct, particularly because there is so much interest in them. The last count in 2008 also recorded a figure of about 46 000 pairs so what has happened? Who's puffins died over the winter?
Well what we think might have happened was that since 2008 the puffin population has been creeping up but this increase has been chopped by the winter storms so that the population has dropped back to what it was. So the good news is that there has been no big decline in the number of puffins on the Isle of May and that it is still one of the best places to see puffins in Scotland, if not the UK.
But the good news only goes so far and though not as many puffins died in the bad winter as thought the effect of that weather is that the puffins have come back to breed on the island in very poor condition and so have had to spend a few weeks feeding up to build up their strength for the rigours of the season. And this has meant that many have started very late, maybe too late to successfully complete a breeding season. What we really need now is a sea full of big sand eels for the adults to be fit and the chicks to grow quickly. But the data collected over the decades show that the sand eel population isn't in great state either. After the poor breeding season of last year the last thing the puffins need is another poor one. We will keep you posted as the season unfolds.

P.S - word on the street is that the Isle of May will be on the TV again - tomorrow (Monday) the full splendour of the seabirds will be on Springwatch with the puffins taking the starring role again. So check it out.

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