Puffins nest on The Treshnish Isles and Staffa
"Coulterneb", "Sea parrot", "Tammynorie", a few of the nicknames attributed by humans to this fascinating comic seabird. In our limited abilities on this Earth we can ill afford to laugh at a creature which can fly thousands of miles in migration, dive to over 60 metres quickly and with ease, move at surprising speed on dry land and live to over 60 years of age while homo sapiens can just about put one foot in front of the other without falling over!
Puffins mass in huge rafts on the sea offshore from their breeding grounds during March/early April. They gradually move to the vicinity of their burrows and perform extensive surveys coupled with tuft picking, squabbling and general business of great importance. They return to the same hole in the ground or cleft in the rock year after year, lay one egg and hatch one chick (which we rarely if ever see) during May/June. For about six weeks parents bring large quantities of neatly arranged sand eels in their beaks and after some showing off on the cliff edge, scuttle below ground to feed baby.
Second week in August and adults have had enough. Puffin Junior is virtually abandoned (recent research suggests occasional parental visits) to his or her own devices, which are of course very limited at this time. After a few days, instinct takes over telling young fat puffin that the pangs of hunger will increase if drastic action is not taken. And so, during the hours of darkness, Young Puffin makes a dramatic move - exits the burrow which was home and migrates in a downwards and potentially sudden stop move to the shore many metres below. Can the learning process be fast enough to use little stubby wings or is the puffin fat and down sufficiently shock absorbing to avert disaster ? Suffice it to say that Atlantic Puffin numbers have increased steadily in the Treshnish Isles during the past thirty years so they must be getting it right!
Beginning of August, the puffin colony masses offshore again and 80%-90% fly off to the ocean for the winter. The stragglers remaining will leave during the next few days. The mystique surrounding puffins location in the winter probably arises from their low density distribution in a vast North Atlantic and the loss of beak colour outwith the breeding season.
The most incredible facet of puffin behavior is their tameness and, perhaps as a result, their therapeutic effect on humans, who can sit by the burrows and commune with one of most fascinating, comic, unique, wild creatures. These soul warming characters may allow the less cumbersome human to come within 1 metre. After many years of experience observing this occurrence, the writer still does not know who is studying whom!