Puffins & Other Seabirds

///Puffins & Other Seabirds

The Westman Islands are truly a magical destination for bird watchers

The islands are an excellent territory for seabirds that favor nesting on rocky ledges in steep cliffs or high and steep grassy hills. From the Westman Islands there is a short distance to generous fishing grounds where the birds can feed and predators are fewer than in many other places.

The seabirds that nest on the islands are both non-migratory and migratory. Most common seabirds in the Westman Islands are fulmars, gannets, common murres, razorbills and puffins. Other seabirds on the islands are manx shearwaters, storm and Leach’s petrels, thick-billed murres and black guillemots. Other breeds of seabirds also come as migratory birds, passing migrants or winter migrants.

First among equals is the puffin with its colourful beak and tender eyes. The puffin is the symbol of the Westman Islands. The birds inhabit the Westman Islands over the summer making the islands one of the largest puffin colonies in the world with more than 1,1 million pairs nesting.

The puffin is grey around the eyes, has a black back and a white chest. The beak is very colourful, striped with red, blue and yellow. There are a few variants of colours and those birds are nicknamed according to their special characteristics – king, prince, coal-boy, topper and sweeper.

The puffin makes its nests in grassy hills above cliffs. The tunnel leading to the nest itself can be up to 1,5 metres long. The puffin is a monogamous bird and is faithful to its partner for life.

Around mid-April the first puffins appear near the islands but in the beginning of May, most have arrived. Mature male birds arrive first, usually a week ahead of the females. If the females do not turn up, the male finds another partner. However, if the former partner shows up, the male chooses it over the new one. This behaviour is unique among birds.

The main nesting season starts around May 20 and lasts until the first week of June. The puffin only lays one egg. The hatching lasts for six weeks and then six to seven weeks pass from the day that the chick is born until it leaves the nest. Both parents take care of the upbringing, keeping very busy the whole time. The parents make around ten trips each day, bringing the chick meals, 4–20 sand eels or small fish per trip.

In september when the chick has abandoned its hole, the puffin makes its way to sea, not to return for the next seven months. During those months the puffin stays at sea. Younger birds roam the seas, quite a few around Newfoundland.

Puffins, both males and females, are around 20 cm high and weigh approx. 500 grams, making sex-determination rather challenging. Their flying abilities are rather limited but they are excellent swimmers and divers. They can fly up to 80 km/h and dive as deep as 60 m. The life expectancy of a normal puffin is around 25 years but the oldest one known reached 42 years.