A final update from Filip our Ramsar officer - although LIVE finishes today we will still be updating the blog when the puffins fledge and when they leave the colony so do check back!
Our puffins are now nearing the end of the breeding season. The pufflings are growing in the nests, fattened on sand eels which their parents bring back to them from the open sea. At this stage, the pufflings haven’t yet seen daylight, hidden away, safe from danger in their burrows. At the end of the month they will take their first steps under cover of darkness, waddling down to the shore and eventually taking themselves out to sea. When pufflings first leave the nest they don’t have the bright white face and belly of their parents, neither do they have the big bright beak. They are dull grey and will be for the next three or four years until they are ready to come back to land and raise their own young.
It is very common for fledging seabirds to get lost when they first leave their nest. Seabirds often fledge at night, as it is safer (there’s less chance of a peregrine, or a rat spotting you in the dark) and they use the glow of the horizon to guide them out to open water. If there is too much light pollution along the coast young seabirds can get confused and fly towards a town, becoming stranded. This is especially common in seaside resorts with the twinkling lights of beach front hotels, bars and nightclubs. We are lucky here in Alderney as we have dark skies, with very little coastal development.
All around the world puffins are struggling. Scientists believe this is due to the world’s oceans getting warmer, which means the sand eels that puffins like to eat have to move further and further north. As you know, puffins need an awful lot of sand eels to raise their pufflings, but they also need enough space to have a colony of burrows.
Puffins are what we call long-lived, they take a very long time to do anything! They do not reach maturity, the age where they can have a puffling of their own, until they are three or four years old, and even then they only lay one egg per year. If that egg fails, if there is not enough fish, or the weather is very bad and the parents need to be away from the nest too long, they have missed their chance until the next year. All this means getting the population higher, what we call recruitment, is very slow.
When you combine that with the threats seabirds suffer, things like warmer oceans moving the fish stocks away from colonies, rats and cats taking eggs and chicks, birds getting tangled in litter floating in the oceans and caught on the end of fishing lines, it becomes clear that we have to work hard to save them.
As conservationists we work with other people all across the world in a collaborative effort to conserve these amazing species. All birds move freely around the world, they don’t need a passport, they don’t care if we are part of the European Union, so they don’t belong to any one country. Cosmo the gannet has just shown that Alderney’s birds use Scandinavian waters, ringing records show that Alderney’s birds use Portuguese waters. We share responsibility for protecting these birds with Norway, Portugal, even Africa!
Puffins go into the Atlantic during the winter months, many other seabird species use the high seas outside of the breeding season. Who is responsible for those international waters, that belong to no-one? With the pressures of energy and housing developments, and the need for increased agriculture it is more important than ever to work with different industries and different countries to conserve what we have before it is too late.