The Farne Islands off the coast of Seahouses, England are Puffin central at this time of year.
Puffins are solitary at sea most of the year, but return to favorite nesting areas like the Farne Islands on the northeastern coast of England to breed. Here they number in the thousands, crowding grassy hillocks where they dig their burrow nests.
We met them swimming in the water fishing for their favorite sand eels (not eels), herring or sprats…
And we found them on rocky prominances, looking out over the sea below…
And we found them all over the grassy mounds in the center of the island where they congregated around burrow holes, and some kind of speed dating process was going on as pairs tried to match up with each other.
Puffins return to the same island, and may return to the same burrow they used the previous year. They may reunite with the previous year’s partner or search for a new one, forming a monogamous pair bond for the duration of the breeding season.
Every now and then, groups would break up, with individuals flying around, joining up with other groups.
Puffins have very short wings for their stout body, and flap their wings many times per second to propel them through air. Consequently, they are really challenging to capture in flight.
it was fascinating to watch the pairing up rituals, which involved displays by the presumed male (chest puffing, wing flapping, head tilted back and forth), and some beak-to-beak interactions (billing) in and around their burrow.
Pairs form when birds are 4-7 years of age. Prior to breeding juvenile birds remain at sea, perfecting their fishing skills.
“Billing” contact between the breeding pair is essential to building and maintaining the pair bond.
One or both members of the pair improve the burrow by removing dirt with their webbed feet and adding grassy thatch, before the female lays her one egg, which takes 40-45 days of incubation to hatch. Nestlings are fed a variety of fish for 35 to 50 days, depending on the food supply parents can provide, and then make their way to the open ocean to feed on their own.