Welcome back puffins!

Trustee Mick Armitage writes about the wonder of puffins, where to spot them and why they're his favourite seabird.

If you asked me what my favourite seabird was, it would be the puffin and I’m sure I wouldn’t be alone. Whirling in from the sea with legs splayed and sand eels in their stunning beaks, they sum up everything that is wonderful about our sea cliffs in early summer. I’ve travelled hundreds of miles and jumped into open boats to see them on our offshore islands. But you don’t need to do this, because we have them right here in Yorkshire!

The stretch of coast from Yorkshire Wildlife Trust’s Flamborough Cliffs to RSPB Bempton Cliffs is the only place in mainland England to see them in significant numbers. Peer down from the clifftop path from mid-April to early July and they will be there, emerging from their burrows and launching themselves from the cliffs to bring in more fish for the young pufflings.

It can be a challenge. Puffin food sources are under pressure as their favourite sand eels have drastically reduced in recent years. The climate emergency is bringing increasingly warm and stormy seas which take their toll. Fish can be stolen by airborne piracy of herring gulls or lesser black backed gulls. Meanwhile, back on land, eggs can be robbed by jackdaws and gulls. Life can be tough for a puffin!

Puffin with sand eels (Mick Armitage)

Nothing else looks like a puffin. With their drooping clown eyes and gaudy red and blue striped beaks, it’s not surprising that they are sometimes called sea parrots. But this look only lasts for the summer breeding season. Over winter they head out to sea and lose the bright coloured plates from their beak and their faces become darker and more subdued.

They spend the winter feeding on the open sea, but they will be back again in the spring. With their outrageous colours refreshed once more, they will find their mates and reoccupy their old nests. This happens year after year because puffins usually pair for life and can live for a very long time. They have been recorded as much as 40 years old in the UK, which is quite amazing given the challenges they are facing.

Puffin with beak open (Mick Armitage)

Now that we are able once more to enjoy ourselves outdoors and experience some of the wonderful wildlife we have in in Yorkshire, at the top of your list should be a trip to the Flamborough coast to visit to our puffins. But there’s just one thing to remember – never call a puffin a penguin, they really don’t like it.

In any case, puffins can fly!