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A puffins beak is specially adapted to fishing for sandeels. Unlike most birds a puffin can ‘dislocate’ its jaw so that its upper and lower beak open parallel to each other. This means that by keeping fish lined up in the back of its beak a puffin can continue catching more fish with the front. The record is 62 fish at one time! To keep all the fish in line in the beak a puffin also has small spines in the roof of its mouth and uses its tongue to hold the fish against the spines whilst collecting more fish.

Spines inside a puffins beak

Spines inside a puffins beak

Gannets obtain their food by ‘plunge diving’. They circle the water at a great height looking for food and then spear into the water, reaching as deep as 20m. They fold their wings back at the last second and straighten their neck to enter the water like a javelin, stunning the fish and catching them. This puts a lot of pressure on their bodies so they have evolved a couple of tricks to help them cope.

Gannets plunge diving

Gannets plunge diving

Gannets can rotate their eyes from the side of their head round to the front so that they have binocular vision, like a bird of prey, when targeting fish in the water. They also have a third eyelid! This closes when they enter the water to protect their eyes from the pressure, but they can see through this third eyelid to catch their prey. Their skulls are also very strong and thick to withstand the impact on the water.

Gannets can swivel their eyes to the front when diving to focus on prey

Gannets can swivel their eyes to the front when diving to focus on prey

The slim build of a shag means that it is very streamlined underwater.

Shags are tall, slim seabirds

Shags are tall, slim seabirds

They are ‘pursuit divers’, able to swim underwater for over a minute and reach up to 80m down in that time, chasing fish to catch them. Most birds produce a waterproof oil for their feathers to protect from the cold water. To make sure they can stay underwater for longer shags have adapted to not need this waterproofing. Instead they allow their feathers to get wet, which means air does not get trapped in them and they do not float to the surface of the water too quickly; then to stay warm shags can often be seen drying their feathers in the sun. Something that their close relatives, cormorants, also do.

A cormorant drying its wings in the sun (you can tell it is a cormorant and not a shag by the white patch on its face)

A cormorant drying its wings in the sun (you can tell it is a cormorant and not a shag by the white patch on its face)

ECOLOGIST'S UPDATE

Yesterday we learnt all about the progress of our seabirds on Burhou with the breeding season. But it is not just the seabirds that are progressing well, most other species are all laying their eggs and incubating in the nests. This includes many garden bird species that you may be able to see in your playground or garden.

A blackbird incubates her eggs

A blackbird incubates her eggs

Of course a great way to see birds nesting without disturbing them is to put up bird boxes and watch for any activity around them. Blue tits are a species that really enjoy using nest boxes.

Blue tit looking out of a nest box

Blue tit looking out of a nest box