The Scottish Mail on Sunday

Puffin isle enjoys breeding season baby boom

- By George Mair

PUFFINS on one of Scotland’s most important seabird islands have enjoyed their second most successful breeding season this century.

Around 42,000 pairs of Atlantic puffins have flocked to the Isle of May National Nature Reserve in the Firth of Forth this year to make their nests in burrows.

The UK Centre for Ecology & Hydrology said breeding success in 2021 was 5 per cent above the longterm average. Mark Newell, its field manager on the Isle of May, said: ‘Over the long term, an average of 75 per cent of puffins that lay an egg on the Isle of May have gone on to rear a chick.

‘This year, it is at 80 per cent, the second highest this century after the 86 per cent in 2017.

‘What we can infer from that is that there was plentiful food for them this year, and the right sort of food. Sand eels are the most nutritious and most abundant available species for them.’

At the start of the breeding season, in late April or early May, researcher­s mark 200 burrows incubating eggs across four plots in different parts of the island.

The team, who spend the entire breeding season on the island, return to the burrows when the first chicks – known as pufflings – start to fledge in mid July.

Puffins lay just a single egg, which both parents incubate for around 40 days and share feeding duties until the puffling is ready to fledge.

This year’s fledglings will not start breeding until they are five or six years old, when they will return to the island where they hatched.

The Isle of May puffin population peaked in 2003 when there were around 80,000 pairs. The number dipped by almost half following poor years in 2007 and 2008.

Mr Newell said: ‘Hopefully in the coming years, numbers might start to go back up again.’

 ??  ?? tHRiVing: An Atlantic puffin after another successful hunt for sand eels
tHRiVing: An Atlantic puffin after another successful hunt for sand eels

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