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The Secret Life of Pembrokeshire’s Puffins

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When a ship was wrecked off the estuary that joins Pembrokeshire with Ceredigion in the 1800s, the record of the incident described the quirky feathered inhabitants of the small island where the wreck occurred as “Pembrokeshire penguins”.  A class clown among seabirds, these comical little creatures are one of the UK’s favourite birds.  But what do we really know about the life of Pembrokeshire’s puffins?

They take their time to move in…

Puffins live at sea during the winter – Pembrokeshire’s puffins are partial to the North Sea due to its large fish population.  When they do move back to their breeding colony at Skomer Island in North Pembrokeshire, they take their time to re-adjust to land and can take weeks to fully settle into their island burrows.

Puffins live underground…

…which isn’t as cosy as it sounds.  Only a few birds worldwide, including kingfishers and some types of penguins, live in burrows.  On Skomer, Pembrokeshire’s main breeding site, our puffins are in a constant battle with the island’s other frequent visitor, the Manx Shearwater.  They also use similar burrows for nesting, and the competition to claim burrows can be fierce.  For this reason, puffins like to nest close to the clifftops to give them a better chance of entering burrows quickly and evading those pesky seabirds!

Female puffins lay a single egg…

Puffin eggs are no bigger than a hen’s egg and is incubated for around 6 weeks by both parents in their underground nest.  Their chicks live in the burrow for around 6 weeks before venturing outside, relying on its parents to bring it sandeels to fatten it up in readiness for its open-air adventures.

Puffins are mostly nocturnal…

Due to their smaller stature, with fledgeling chicks weighing no more than about 300 grams, our Pembrokeshire puffins are targets for larger predators such as larger gulls who will attack even adult birds.  For this reason, they tend to come out at night, make their way down the cliffs of Skomer and take off under the cover of darkness.

Their little wings aren’t a genetic disadvantage…

These little creatures look quite comical when flying through the air, and due to their very small wingspan, have to flap their wings twice as fast to get anywhere.  However, the actual use is for swimming underwater and the smaller wings become extremely aerodynamic paddles used to push themselves through the water in search for fish.

A puffin’s beak isn’t always red…

Puffins are known for their brightly coloured beaks, but they only show it off during the breeding season.  In winter, the scutes on their beaks moult, revealing a muted small black beak.

The oldest recorded puffin in Pembrokeshire is 38 years old…

The average age nationwide is 25 years, but we think that the Pembrokeshire air definitely has its advantages for these little birds!

Your best chance of seeing a puffin in Pembrokeshire is during the summer months…

They tend to return to their burrows between April until the colonies begin to become deserted again in early August, but your best chance of seeing the puffins is from mid-June to mid-July when the parents are actively popping back and forth with up to 10 fish a day for their newly-hatched chicks.

Visitor numbers on Skomer are limited to 250 people per day so as not to overcrowd the area and scare off the approximately 22,500 colourful characters.  Boat trips to Skomer leave from St Justinians a few times a day during the summer months but be sure to book ahead as our feathered friends are quite the holiday attraction!

You can adopt your very own Pembrokeshire puffin…

Help support The Welsh Wildlife Trust’s conservation work on Skomer by purchasing a Protect a Puffin Adoption pack.  The perfect gift for fans of our vibrant little friends, you’ll receive reports and updates on your chosen puffin as well as facts, information and a cuddly puffin soft toy. 

Adoption packs can be found on The Welsh Wildlife Trust’s website here.

For more information about Pembrokeshire, its wildlife and activities you can do whilst on your holidays with us, please visit our News page now.

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