The Treshnish Isles
Puffins have a therapeutic effect on humans (we call it Puffin Therapy). Visitors can sit near the burrows and commune with these most fascinating and comic little creatures who may allow the less cumbersome to come within a metre or two. Following years observing this occurrence, we are still not entirely sure who is studying whom.
They mass in huge rafts offshore from their breeding areas during March/early April, gradually moving to their burrows to perform extensive surveys coupled with tuft picking, nest re-ordering, squabbling and general business of some importance. They return to the same each year and lay one single egg. One chick is hatched in May or early June. For about six weeks parents bring neatly arranged sand eels in their beaks (specially adapted to carry lots) to feed their chick.
By the second week of August they stop feeding the puffling which is virtually abandoned (research suggests occasional parental visits).. After a few days, instinct takes over and during the hours of darkness the young puffin exits the burrow and heads 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 remained healthy in the Treshnish Isles during recent years so most must be managing ok!
At the beginning of August, the puffin colony masses offshore again and most 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.