BEAU­TI­FUL AUK

Bird Watching (UK) - - Species Puffins -

Puffins are eas­ily our most colour­ful auk species, the rest be­ing largely black and white with black bills

Puf­fin was added be­cause it is glob­ally con­sid­ered Vul­ner­a­ble. A crash in num­bers in Nor­way, Ice­land and the Faroe Is­lands – which to­gether hold 80% of the world pop­u­la­tion – has been linked to cli­mate change and fish­ing prac­tices, and there have been losses on Shet­land and Fair Isle, too. Dr Richard Gre­gory, the RSPB’S head of species mon­i­tor­ing, said that the high rate of breed­ing fail­ures at colonies was the main cause for con­cern. Re­search has shown that Puffins are

par­tic­u­larly vul­ner­a­ble to shifts in sea tem­per­a­tures or ex­treme weather, such as un­sea­sonal storms, both of which af­fect their prey, while over­fish­ing also plays a part – the sandeels that are the Puf­fin’s pre­ferred food are taken as by-catch by trawlers, while other fish species are ac­tively caught. Fi­nally, in­va­sive preda­tors such as rats, cats and mink around breed­ing colonies play a part, as does pol­lu­tion from dis­as­ters such as oil and chem­i­cal spills. They will be back at their breed­ing colonies as early as March, af­ter spend­ing the win­ter in the North Sea, the At­lantic, and the Bay of Bis­cay. Cer­tainly, by April they’re a fa­mil­iar sight on clifftops, where they make their nests in bur­rows. In the UK, this pref­er­ence for such a spe­cific habi­tat means that most are found on the west coasts, al­though there are sig­nif­i­cant pop­u­la­tions on Shet­land and Orkney, and on the coasts of Northum­ber­land and York­shire. In the breed­ing sea­son, they are ut­terly dis­tinc­tive, with black up­per­parts, white un­der­side and grey cheeks, all set off by bright or­ange legs and feet and a large or­ange, grey and yel­low bill (adapted for car­ry­ing lots of fish as well as dis­play). Males are slightly larger than fe­males, but oth­er­wise the sexes are iden­ti­cal. If all that’s not enough, they also have an en­dear­ingly rolling gait, and a low, grum­bling call (usu­ally given from below ground), all con­tribut­ing to a rather ‘clown-like’ ap­pear­ance. At times in the past, they were also known as the ‘sea par­rot’. So read­ily iden­ti­fi­able are they, even to non-bird­watch­ers, that the threat to their fu­ture caused head­lines in na­tional news­pa­pers. But even as the bad news about the Puf­fin’s con­ser­va­tion sta­tus was sink­ing in, the RSPB an­nounced the cre­ation of a new re­serve at which the species could be among the ben­e­fi­cia­ries of con­ser­va­tion mea­sures. Dun­net Head, the north­ern­most point of main­land Bri­tain, has been bought by RSPB Scot­land, with the help of a Her­itage Lot­tery Fund grant. The head­land has 300-foot high cliffs, which are home to a host of seabirds, in­clud­ing Puffins,

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