How do young puffins lo­cate their na­tal breed­ing colonies af­ter years at sea?

BBC Wildlife Magazine - - Our Wild World -

Puffins start to breed at age three or four, and a sub­stan­tial num­ber (about 60 per cent) re­turn to their na­tal colony to raise a fam­ily, af­ter spend­ing their early years at sea.

How they lo­cate their home turf from thou­sands of miles away is still a mys­tery. When young­sters are ready to leave their nest­ing bur­rows, they take to the wing alone, of­ten at night, with no adult to guide them. It’s un­likely they fol­low fel­low birds home, as puffins are mostly soli­tary over win­ter, and it’s doubt­ful that they have a ge­netic mem­ory of the colony’s lo­ca­tion.

In­stead, puffins prob­a­bly learn to nav­i­gate us­ing ce­les­tial clues, and per­haps even smells, fol­low­ing the stars like a com­pass based on recog­ni­tion of pat­terns learned in early life. On clear nights, puf­fin chicks some­times spend time sit­ting be­side their bur­row en­trances. Per­haps they are stargaz­ing in prepa­ra­tion for the ar­du­ous jour­neys ahead. El­lie Owen

Puffins fledge af­ter a max­i­mum of 60 days in the bur­row – and then they’re on their own.

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