Puffins return early to Farne Islands

Puffins have started to return to their breeding grounds two weeks early thanks to the milder spring temperatures.

Puffins on the Farne Islands, Northumberland

Rangers on the Farne Islands reported sightings of over 500 puffins on the island just yesterday. It is thought this could be one of the earliest sightings on record.

David Steel, Lead Ranger for the National Trust on the Farne Islands, said: “It is unusual to see puffins returning to Farne waters so early. In a normal given year we wouldn’t expect to see them until the last few days of March at the earliest.

“This is in complete contrast to the previous season when birds did not start returning until early April. It is now hoped that this mild weather is a sign of things to come and the puffins and other seabirds of the Farne Islands have a successful year. The Farne Islands are open for visitors on the 1st of April and we’re looking forward to welcoming visitors once again.”

The Farne Islands are home to 40,000 pairs of puffins during spring and summer. Follow www.facebook.com/NorthEastNT to keep up to date with the latest puffin news.


Puffin Facts

  • Puffins older than the age of two can be identified by the presence of ridges on their beak. The feet also brighten with maturity.
  • Black upperparts and white lower parts act as effective camouflage whilst sitting on the sea; to a predator looking up, the white colouration blends with the light sky and to a predator looking down, the black features blend with the dark water. 
  • Puffins typically dive for 30 seconds. 
  • Unlike most birds, puffins (and all other auks) have solid wing bones to assist submergence. 
  • Puffins can catch and swallow up to three fish during one dive. 
  • The beak is well adapted to grip a row of fish as the upper and lower mandibles come together in a parallel fashion to exert equal pressure along the whole length of the bill. 
  • The record number of sandeels found in a puffin’s beak is 61!   
  • Due to an annual moult, most puffins are flightless between January and March. 
  • (92% of) Puffins use the same burrow each year and thus (85% of) puffins pair for life. 
  • Only one egg is laid weighing 15% of an adult puffin’s body weight.  This small investment reflects the stability of a puffin’s environment.  A second egg can be laid within two weeks if the first egg falls to predation. 
  • Both sexes incubate. Incubation period is 39 – 43 days. If one parent dies, it is possible for the other to raise a chick alone. 
  • A puffin flies into the wind on take off and with the wind on approach.  Thus all puffins in a colony fly in the same direction, reducing the chance of collision.   
  • Courtship involves beak tapping. Neighbours in a colony sometimes join in to develop kinship. 
  • Chicks can gain 10g body weight per day.  However at 4 weeks old, the chick takes on 80g of fish per day (25% of its body weight).  
  • Puffin chicks leave their burrows under the cover of darkness, quickly making their over cliffs and surf to swim as far out to sea as 3 miles by dawn. 



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