Puffins of Skomer and Skokholm Island

By Kathryn Slade Puffin In Wildflowers

Pembrokeshire has just gained around 8,000 new residents! Each year Puffins arrive to make Skomer and Skokholm Islands their homes for spring and summer. These beautiful birds with brightly coloured bills make up part of the largest colony of puffins in Southern Britain.

They arrive in Pembrokeshire in late March and meet in groups called ‘rafts’ at sea. Before long they start to make their way onto the cliff tops where they compete for underground burrowing space with Manx Shearwaters. Puffins prefer the burrows closest to the top of the cliff since the parent birds can make swifter exits and avoid predatory gulls.

Flying Puffin at Cliff

Puffins line these burrows with dead grass, Sea Campion and Bluebells and in the early part of May the female will lay her single egg here. The parents then take it in turns to incubate the egg for about 6 weeks.

Puffins are small birds, measuring around 30cm from beak to tail. When the chick hatches, they weigh about 40 grams and are covered in dark grey fluffy feathers. The little chick spends its first 6 weeks in the burrow where it is fed a diet of Sandeels by its parents. They are fed five to eight times a day and this is enough food for them to put on around 250 grams in weight.

By July the chicks are ready to leave the island, thanks to the food provided by their parents, despite not being fully grown. They can fly surprisingly well now but they are very vulnerable to attacks. They work their way down the cliff and take off under the cover of darkness and are out of the sight of land by the time the sunrises. After this they are on their own in the world!

They will then spend the next two years at sea before they start to spend more times at the colonies in the summer. Most won’t start breeding until they are five but they will be looking for a suitable mate and burrow from their first summer in the colony. When they do start breeding there is a low success rate. On average each pair rears a chick every two years, but less than one in five of these chicks survives to reach breeding age.

Puffin in Bluebells

It’s not all bad news though; the ones that do make it to breeding age are expected to live long lives. These birds are expected to live for around 25 years, sometimes even longer! The current Skomer Island record is held at over 38 years old.  
Puffins can be seen on Skomer from April until August. With the best time to see them between mid-June and mid-July, when the chicks have hatched as the parents are busy providing food.

Skomer Island Nature Reserve Sign

Another once in a lifetime experience that you can enjoy while you’re staying with at Bluestone!

Categories:Activities, Pembrokeshire, Environment

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