Puffin census

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An armada of puffins © David Steel

An armada of puffins

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Latest update 17.05.2013 08:40

A Puffin census has begun at the North East’s most amazing wildlife habitat, the windswept Farne Islands, as National Trust Rangers attempt to find how many breeding pairs of these iconic birds live on the Islands.

The census takes place every five years. Records date back to 1939 when 3,000 breeding pairs were recorded. The last survey in 2008 recorded 36,500 pairs of puffins across eight islands. This spring and summer a team of eleven National Trust Rangers will be travelling between the Islands to carry out the mammoth task of counting every single bird.

Puffins nest underground in burrows, so the Rangers will have to put their arms into the holes to make sure that the nests are occupied. Until 2008, each survey since the census began 65 years ago showed a steady increase in pairs of puffins on the Farne Islands, but the last count indicated numbers had fallen by a third as in 2003 the census indicated there were 55,674 pairs living on the Islands.

David Steel, Head Ranger for the Farne Islands told us:

“David Attenbrough recently said that the Farnes during the breeding season is his favourite place in the UK to see magnificent wildlife, and with thousands of puffins with their black and white feathers and colourful beaks, you can understand why. We’ve been monitoring a small section of the Farnes every year since the last census in 2008 and have seen a small increase in numbers in this area. We’re hoping to see an increase in overall numbers this year but you can’t tell after the winter we’ve just had.”

Factors for why the Puffins continue to flourish on the Farne Islands include better protection, good sources of food, a lack of ground predators and the availability of suitable nesting areas. But Rangers on the Farne Islands fear that the extreme cold weather this winter which has led to a higher than average mortality rate may effect numbers. David continued:

“This March was the coldest on record since 1962 and this could impact on breeding numbers. The extreme winds affected the puffin’s ability to feed as they made their way back to their summer breeding grounds. It will be interesting to see the results of the puffin census which we will have available to share in July.”