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Puffins prepare to leave earlier

19.08.2020 - 15:27
Mynd með færslu
 Mynd: Náttúrustofa Suðurlands
Iceland’s puffins are getting itchy feet and it looks as though the famous Vestmannaeyjar puffins are preparing to head out to sea at the historically usual time this year, after staying ashore longer than normal for nearly two decades.

Erpur Snær Hansen, head of the South Iceland Natural History Institute, says the puffins have headed out to sea some two or three weeks late for the past 17 years, but appear to be getting ready to set off this year at around the same time as they did in the previous 60 years. 

Erpur says the iconic birds will probably leave the South Iceland archipelago around the end of August/start of September. 

Scientists have only fairly recently confirmed where the puffins go when they leave Iceland each September. First, they fly west to the Labrador Sea, where they stay until the New Year. Next, they fly southeast along the Mid Atlantic Ridge, where they stay until spring.  

Erpur says it is difficult to say why the puffins look set to leave earlier this year. “We suspect, though, that the cooler sea temperatures that have occurred over the past five years are playing a role, though why it hasn’t happened in the previous four years is a good question. But it is as though the seasonal changes are earlier in the sea generally and that nesting has shifted to this cold-water-gear,” he says. 

Despite the birds’ return to a more normal schedule, the number of nesting puffins this year has been very low. 

Only 57 percent of the puffin nest holes on the Vestmannaeyjar were used this summer. Last year, 78 percent of the holes were used. A similar story unfolded in Breiðafjörður, West Iceland, where 83 percent of nest holes were occupied last summer but only 57 percent this summer. The difference between years is some 21 percent. 

To counter this, however, the proportion of nesting puffins that managed to raise pufflings successfully to fledging age was high, and Erpur says this is a sign that there seems to have been plenty of food for the birds in the waters off Iceland this year. 

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