Over the last 6 weeks a question we have had from visitors is “why do puffins sit for ages at the cliff tops with a beakful of fish.” Most photographers come to the island to get the “perfect puffin shot” of a puffin with glistening fish and a glint in its eyes with a back drop of sea and this Walk Highlands article showed just such quest. But very few photographers think to ask why are these birds posing for them. Visitors without cameras seem to consider the posing a bit more but are mystified and very few people at all consider that they themselves might actually be the problem.
The fact is that most puffins sit there for so long posing because they are waiting for the photographers and public to move out of the way so that they can get to their burrows to feed their chicks. Through a research project carried out on the island we know that puffins that nest close to busy paths and view points bring significantly less feeds to their chicks than those away nesting away from areas visited by people. At the current feeding rates and fish stocks there is still enough time in the day when visitors are not on the island for the birds to get enough feeds to their chicks but those chicks next to paths might grow more slowly. But if fish stocks were to drop due to climate change or overfishing then the situation might be different and it might be that adult puffins are not able to get enough fish to their chicks for them to fledge. This is one reason why we restrict visitors to only 3 hours maximum on the island per day and is a situation where we work to fit the visitors around the needs of the birds on the island. So if you are visiting the island during puffin chick feeding time and want the “perfect puffin” it is worth considering how your quest might impact your quarry.