Now you see them, now you don’t – mystery of Sumburgh Head puffins

A puffin at Sumburgh Head. Click on image to enlarge.
A puffin at Sumburgh Head. Click on image to enlarge.

The puffins at Sumburgh Head have made a surprise return after a baffling early departure from the cliffs last week.

Their unusual behaviour has left bird experts scratching their heads, although they are keen to emphasise that this has been the best season for the iconic birds in Shetland for around five years.

Normally there are high numbers on the cliffs at Sumburgh Head until the middle of August, but last week they left en masse. However, thousands reappeared over the weekend.

RSBP South Shetland warden Helen Moncrieff said: “I am baffled by their recent behaviour. It is quite remarkable and adds to their intrigue.”

RSPB assistant warden Rob Fray has established a new monitoring plot at Sumburgh Head to attempt to get an idea of how successful the puffins are.

Mr Fray said: “I’ve spent over a hundred hours observing the puffin colony, recording their activity. The birds were regularly bringing in sandeels and I believe that almost half of the pairs have fledged a chick. It will be interesting to discover how future years compare.”

The story on Fair Isle appears to be similar. Deryk Shaw of Fair Isle Bird Observatory (FIBO) explained: “We have a breeding productivity plot which we monitor annually.

“When it was checked on 20th July we found that the majority of chicks had already fledged, which is a week or so earlier than usual. Productivity is still lower than 10 years ago, but this season has certainly been better than the last five years.”

The RSPB is to host a special “Puffin Party” event on Saturday. Ms Moncrieff said: “Will they show up or won’t they?”


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