Puffins are lots of people's favourite bird.

And for good reason, funny wee things.

They live in burrows, sort of growl/laugh and also have a tendency to come in too hot, regularly crash landing on the cliffs they call home.

That’s before we get to their iconic colouring - the blacks, whites and bright oranges, instantly giving rise to nicknames like ‘Sea Parrots’ and ‘Clowns of the Sea’.

Their connection to the Outer Hebrides is as rich as it is remote, but the challenges facing these particular clowns are no laughing matter.

We’ll get to that, but first, some quick fire facts.

Puffin Pop Trivia

Average Height - 20-30 cms

Average Weight - 400-500g

Average Wingspan - 20-24 inches 

Average Lifespan - 18-20 years

Diet - Sandeels, herring, crustaceans

Behaviour - Puffins are highly sociable, growling aside. 

They gather in gigantic colonies on coastal, grassy cliffs. But even when they’re out to sea for most of the year, they find safety in numbers.

They’ve been known to form rafts with fellow puffins to guard against predators and hostile conditions, and it’s also during this time that they find a mate - returning to land in the summer months to breed.

Puffin Central

Puffins occupy the most far flung regions of the Outer Hebrides. The Shiants, Flannan Isles, Sulla Sgier, Rona, Mingulay and of course, St Kilda, all host these expressive little birds. 

41 miles west of Benbecula, St Kilda is a dual World Heritage site* and the ultimate puffin paradise.

With towering cliffs, coastal grasslands, the abundant Atlantic and best of all, no natural predators to prey on their eggs or the puffins themselves - it’s easy to see why St Kilda plays host to the largest seabird colony in the UK.

And you can book the trip of a lifetime, with many boat tour companies running voyages from across the islands to visit all of these iconic puffin places.

Trouble in Paradise

Every year, coastal erosion slowly ebbs away at viable puffin habitat.

But the more pressing problem is climate change.

Rising sea temperatures alter the migration of puffins’ favourite foods. This, plus overfishing means the pressure on puffins is rapidly increasing. 

Puffin pairs only have one chick a year. Fewer fish means fewer chicks successfully fledge, causing populations to plummet. Numbers have declined so much that the Atlantic puffin has been classed as ‘Vulnerable’ by the International Union for Conservation of Nature.

Grimmer still, by 2050 it’s thought there’ll be more plastic in the sea than fish. Puffins have already been observed mistakenly bringing plastic back to feed their young.

Flight or Fight?

The problems puffins face aren’t exclusive to them. But their plight highlights changes we can all make to better conserve the Outer Hebrides, and the world. 

Reduce single use plastics, maybe sponsor a puffin to help prevent habitat loss and definitely research greener ways to live.

If we all work to protect puffins, they’ll pay us back tenfold. Just by being themselves.

Related

Puffin - Mingulay
Birds - Puffins
Puffin - Mingulay

Present on off-shore islands from late April - August.

Puffin - The Shiants
Birds - Puffins
Puffin - The Shiants

Present on off-shore islands from late April - August.

Puffin - St Kilda
Birds - Puffins
Puffin - St Kilda

Present on off-shore islands from late April - August.