Puffins in decline

The past few years have seen almost all south Lofoten archipelago-born puffins starve to death

Photo: Richard Bartz / Wikimedia Commons A puffin in Iceland.

Photo: Richard Bartz / Wikimedia Commons
A puffin in Iceland.

Sarah Bostock & Michael Sandelson
The Foreigner

Nordland County’s municipality of Røst is believed to have Europe’s largest prevalence of sea birds. The main species found is the Atlantic (or common) Puffin, Fratercula arctica. But while the area’s main industry is fishing, there is insufficient food to sustain the chicks. This year’s puffin numbers are at an all-time low.

“We estimate that there are 289,000 pairs of puffins in Røst this breeding season,” senior NINA (Norwegian Institute for Nature Research) researcher Tycho Anker-Nilssen told Nationen.

Puffin colony numbers sank by 20.5 percent in 2013, with a roughly 7 percent decline between 2014 and 2015.

“Researchers have recently estimated national puffin pair numbers to be about 1.5 million,” Anker-Nilssen said. This is the same figure as in 1980 on the island of Røst alone, with its current human population of 600. All the puffin chicks born on Røst in that year died in the first few weeks of life.

“Annual herring availability hasn’t been good for nine years, which results in poor ripple effects for puffins,” he explained.

Climate change and warmer waters have also meant increased numbers of mackerel, which eat smaller-sized herrings. Other factors linked to the decreasing population include many consecutive years without nesting, interrupted breeding, and refraining from laying eggs.

“Puffins on Røst have not borne offspring since 2006. This means there have been eight consecutive years with zero puffin population growth here,” he remarked.

The female puffin only lays one egg a year, in late April or early May. Both parents incubate the egg for a period of between 36 and 45 days. They share feeding duties until the chick is ready to fledge, with the period ranging from 34 to 60 days, area and year-dependent.

(Additional source: RSPB)

This article was originally published on The Foreigner. To subscribe to The Foreigner, visit theforeigner.no.

It also appeared in the July 10, 2015, issue of the Norwegian American Weekly.

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