Atlantic Puffin Fratercula arctica

Status;  International importance;  Population estimates;  Distribution;  Annual abundance/ productivity; Phenology/diet/survival

Atlantic Puffin vignette

 

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Description

The following has been adapted from original text by Mike P. Harris and Sarah Wanless in Seabird Populations of Britain and Ireland (with permission from A&C Black, London).

 

The Atlantic puffin is the most instantly recognisable and popular of all North Atlantic seabirds. It breeds in the North Atlantic and the adjacent Arctic Ocean, with strongholds in Iceland and Norway, with around 10% of the population breeding around Britain and Ireland, where it is the second most abundant breeding seabird. Atlantic puffins are pelagic and we are still largely ignorant of where they spend their time away from the colony. Those from north western Britain disperse widely outside the breeding season, as far as Newfoundland in the west and the Canary Islands to the south and even into the Mediterranean as far east as Italy. In contrast, most of those from colonies in eastern Britain remain within the North Sea though in recent decades some have dispersed as far as the Bay of Biscay.

 

Atlantic puffins typically nest underground in burrows dug in the soil of offshore islands, but where such habitat is sparse, they nest among boulder screes or at low densities in cracks in sheer cliffs. The species is highly colonial and most colonies occur where the nesting birds are safe from mammalian predators. However, during the breeding season a colony can appear deserted during the middle of the day since most birds are either in their burrows or out at sea feeding. At other times awe-inspiring numbers can be seen standing on the slopes, bobbing around on the sea or flying in vast wheels over the colony. Chicks are fed on small fish that the adult carries cross-wise in its beak. In the UK the commonest prey is the lesser sandeel, followed by sprat, herring and a wide range of small juvenile gadoid fish. Fish are caught by underwater pursuit, usually several at a time.

 


Conservation status

 

Atlantic puffin is currently identified as a conservation priority in the following:

EC Birds Directive - migratory species

Red listed in Birds of Conservation Concern 4 (2015 update)

(further information on Conservation Designations for UK Taxa)

Amber listed in Birds of Conservation Concern in Ireland 2014-2019 (2014 update)

 


International importance

 

UK Population % Biogeographic Population % World Population
580,700 AOB* 9.6 (ssp. arctica) 9.6

 

*AOB = Apparently Occupied Burrows

The UK population figure (rounded to the nearest hundred) was derived from data in Mitchell, P.I., Newton, S.F., Ratcliffe, N. and Dunn, T.E. (eds.) 2004. Seabird Populations of Britain and Ireland. Poyser, London. This was also the source of figures for the Biogeographic and World populations.

 


UK population estimates and change 1969-2002 (census data)

 

During Seabird 2000 and the SCR Census, surveyors were able to count apparently occupied burrows (AOB) at most colonies. Here the main source of error is the misclassification or overlooking of burrows. However, for logistical reasons complete coverage is impossible to achieve at many colonies. In such situations the density of burrows must be determined through sample plots, the area of the colony estimated and the measures combined to get an estimated population size. Where birds nest under boulders, in mixed colonies with Manx shearwaters, in completely inaccessible places or at low densities along stretches of cliffs (mainland colonies), counts of burrows are impractical. In these cases surveyors must count individual birds attending the colony. Such counts can be highly variable, both within and between days, and the lack of any obvious factor influencing attendance means that such counts are of rather limited value in assessing breeding numbers, but they do at least give some idea of colony size. April and May are the prime months for counting individual birds before substantial numbers of immature birds begin to attend colonies.

For the calculation of total populations, some arbitrary decisions had to be made to allow the combination of counts of individuals and AOBs. The practice of assuming that one individual corresponded to one AOB was applied to counts from all three national censuses. This approximation may well result in a serious underestimate of the number of AOBs. However, the overall estimates of the SCR Census and Seabird 2000 should be broadly comparable. In both surveys, 83% of the total population estimates came from counts or estimates of AOBs. Furthermore, in the SCR Census, 65% of the counts of individual birds came from the preferred counting months compared to 73% during Seabird 2000.

 

 

Operation Seafarer

(1969-70)

Seabird Colony Register

(1985-88)

Seabird 2000

(1998-2002)

UK Population estimate (AOB*) 424,318 488,763 580,714
% change since previous census N/a +15 +19

 

*AOB = Apparently Occupied Burrows

For census results for individual countries and Ireland, the Channel Islands and the Isle of Man see under relevant sections below.

 


Distribution/abundance

 

The Seabird 2000 census provides the most comprehensive recent assessment of the distribution and abundance of breeding seabirds. Numbers of Atlantic puffin found in different regions, and a map showing the locations and size of colonies, is provided in the Seabird 2000 Atlantic puffin results page (PDF, 2.0 mb).

 

An interactive map is available on the NBN Gateway, where you can filter to display only the Seabird 2000 data.  For more recent, but less comprehensive, coverage view the distribution on the NBN with all available contributing datasets.

 

The locations sampled during the annual Seabird Monitoring Programme provide some information on distribution and are accessible via the Seabird Monitoring Programme online database.

 


Annual abundance and productivity by geographical area

 

With reference to the regional accounts below please note the following.

Breeding abundance: graphs of abundance index with 95% confidence limits are only shown for a region where the trend produced has been deemed accurate (see methods of analysis). Where a trend was thought to be inaccurate, graphs of abundance at major colonies in a region may be shown instead, particularly if such colonies hold greater than 10% of the regional population, are monitored frequently and may thus help illustrate regional population fluctuations outwith national censuses. Occasionally, too few data have been collected regionally to produce either of these.

Productivity: graphs of productivity are only shown if analysis of breeding success data produced a significant result for regional and/or year effects (again see methods of analysis). If results were not significant, then a regional mean productivity value is given. However, on some occasions, too few data are available from which to provide a meaningful average. Furthermore, for 11 species where the quality of monitoring data available was considered high, population viability analysis was undertaken at the UK level and the results of this are also reported.   

 



 

Breeding abundance

 

The logistical difficulties in monitoring Atlantic puffin colonies means that few data are collected annually and that a bias toward smaller colonies exist; these are usually counts of individual adult birds in attendance at breeding sites. For a variety of factors, counts of individuals can vary quite markedly between years compared to counts of apparently occupied burrows (AOB). The UK Atlantic puffin population increased until at least Seabird 2000 (for unknown reasons), and possibly beyond, as counts of AOBs from two of the largest colonies (Farne Islands in Northumberland and Isle of May in North-east Fife) held even greater numbers in 2003 than they did when surveyed for Seabird 2000. However, a substantial decline at these two colonies was recorded between 2003 and 2008/9 (see relevant sections for more detail), with survey work in 2013 suggesting only limited recovery, if any. It is not known whether these decreases are representative of the UK as a whole. The return rate of adult puffins breeding on the Isle of May was very low in 2007 and 2008 (see under ‘Return rates and survival rates’), which explains, at least in part, the population decrease at this colony. The reasons for low return rates in these years are unknown.

 

Productivity

 

UK Atlantic puffin productivity trend

Figure 1: Trend in UK productivity (no. of chicks fledged per pair) of Atlantic puffin 1986-2015. Based on SMP data; view the methods of analysis (PDF 158 kb).

 

Productivity has fluctuated throughout the recording period (Figure 1) but appears to have been generally lower since the late 1990s, contributing to a declining trend overall. Productivity was at its lowest in 2007 due to food shortage plus unprecedented rainfall flooding burrows; these two factors combined also negatively impacted on productivity in 1998 and 2004. In 2012, high rainfall lowered productivity on the Isle of May, but also flooded thousands of burrows on the Farne Islands such that a large proportion of puffins did not even attempt to breed (although those that did had high levels of success). Productivity in 2013 was on a par with 2012, despite a lack of storms and inclement weather during the breeding season, suggesting other factors lowered success e.g. feeding conditions. In 2014, productivity was at its highest for many years due to favourable environmental and feeding conditions throughout the breeding season. Productivity decreased to an average of 0.55 chicks fledged per pair in 2015.

 

 

Population estimates and change 1969-2002 (census data)

 

 

Operation Seafarer    

(1969-70)

Seabird Colony Register    

(1985-88)

Seabird 2000    

(1998-2002)

Population estimate (AOB*) 410,011 438,101 493,042
% change since previous census    N/a +7 +13

 

*AOB = Apparently Occupied Burrows

 

Breeding abundance

 

Puffin Scottish colonies abundance 2015

Figure 1: Abundance of Atlantic puffin at three colonies in Scotland, 1986-2015.

 

The logistical difficulties in monitoring Atlantic puffin colonies means that few data are collected annually. National census data indicate that the number of Atlantic puffins in Scotland had increased since Operation Seafarer in 1969-70 by 20% up to Seabird 2000. Figure 1 shows changes at the largest colonies (which hold over 40% of the national population) between the Seabird Colony Register and Seabird 2000. However, of the three colonies shown only the Isle of May has been surveyed since Seabird 2000 with numbers increasing from 42,000 AOB to 69,300 AOB in 2003. This was followed by a substantial decline with 44,971 AOB recorded in 2009 (not 56,867 AOB as previously reported). In 2013, a repeat survey of the Isle of May found approximately 46,200 AOB, suggesting little recovery in the last four years. Numbers at two other islands in the Firth of Forth in 2013 (Craigleith 5,000 AOB and Fidra 755 AOB, both East Lothian) had also changed little since 2009 (4,500 and 800 AOB, respectively). The return rate of adult puffins breeding on the Isle of May was very low in 2007 and 2008 (see ‘Return rates and survival rates’ below), which explains, at least in part, the population decrease at this colony. The reasons for low return rates in these years are unknown. Survey work on the Flannan Isles in 2013 and 2014 recorded 34,244 AOB. This is far higher than recorded by recent surveys; 28,016 AOB were counted in 1996 but only 15,761 AOB during Seabird 2000. However, different methods were used during each of these surveys so comparison of results is difficult although the colony appears to have increased substantially since 1988 when 6,279 AOB were recorded during the SCR census.

 

Productivity

 

Scotland Atlantic puffin productivity trend

Figure 2: Trend in productivity (no. of chicks fledged per pair) of Atlantic puffin in Scotland, 1986-2015. Based on SMP data; view the methods of analysis (PDF 158 kb).

 

Productivity has fluctuated throughout the recording period but appears to have been generally lower in the years since the late 1990s, contributing to a declining trend overall. Productivity was at its lowest in 2007 due to food shortage and unprecedented rainfall flooding burrows; these two factors also negatively impacted on breeding success in 1998 and 2004. In 2012, breeding success on the Isle of May (0.57 chicks fledged per nest) was lowered by unusually high rainfall throughout the breeding season flooding many burrows.   In 2015, breeding success on the Isle of May (0.75) was average. On Fair Isle (Shetland), Atlantic puffin productivity was 0.76 chicks per fledged pair, 13% lower than in 2014, which was their most successful breeding season since 1987. In 2015, a reasonable numbers of chicks were fledged also on Dun (0.58) (Western Isles).

 

 

Population estimates and change 1969-2002 (census data)

 

 

Operation Seafarer    

(1969-70)

Seabird Colony Register    

(1985-88)

Seabird 2000    

(1998-2002)

Population estimate (AOB*) 8,616 36,868 75,734
% change since previous census    N/a +328 +105

 

*AOB = Apparently Occupied Burrows

 

Breeding abundance

 

Puffin Northumberland abundance 2015

Figure 1: Abundance of Atlantic puffin on Coquet and the Farne Islands (both Northumberland), 1986-2015.

 

Atlantic puffin numbers at colonies in England have increased since Operation Seafarer when 8,616 AOB were counted. The Seabird Colony Register recorded four times this number, and by Seabird 2000, numbers had doubled again. The largest English colonies are both in the north-east on the offshore islands of the Farne Islands and Coquet (Northumberland), which between them held over 95% of England's puffins during the last census. The number of Atlantic puffins nesting on Coquet decreased by approximately one-third immediately after Seabird 2000, had recovered by 2008, but now seems to be declining again; survey work recorded 12,344 AOB in 2013 - 36% fewer than in 2008. On the Farne Islands, a far larger colony than Coquet (thus monitored less frequently), a 24% decline was recorded between 2003 (55,674 AOB) and 2008 (36,835 AOB). A survey in 2013 recorded 39,962 AOB, suggesting only limited recovery, if any, since 2008. 

 

Productivity

 

Wales Atlantic puffin productivity trend

Figure 2: Trend in productivity (no. of chicks fledged per pair) of Atlantic puffin in England, 1986-2015. Based on SMP data; view the methods of analysis (PDF 158 kb).

 

The productivity of Atlantic puffins at colonies in England (monitored at Coquet, Farne Islands and Lundy (Devon)) has been very variable over time with no clear overall trend. Most of the data have been collected at the Farne Islands where food shortage plus unprecedented rainfall flooding burrows resulted in lowered productivity in 1998 and 2007. Productivity on the Farne Islands has been particularly high in recent years. For example, in 2012, breeding success was estimated at 0.84 chicks fledged from 45 monitored nests partly due to good feeding conditions. However, this may have been an artificially high figure. Normally, over 100 nests are followed, split roughly equally between Inner Farne and Brownsman, to estimate breeding success but the colony on Brownsman suffered severe flooding in April and May of 2012 with an estimated 90% of 12,000 burrows flooded such that many puffins did not attempt to breed7. In 2015, productivity was only 0.46 chicks fledged per pair. Excluding 2012 and 2015, breeding success on the Farne Islands has never fallen below 0.90 chicks fledged per egg laid since 2009.  Following the eradication of rats Rattus sp. on Lundy, plots to study the breeding success of Atlantic puffins have been established; 0.43 and 0.86 chicks fledged per occupied burrow in 2014 and 2015 respectively..

 

 

Population estimates and change 1969-2002 (census data)

 

 

Operation Seafarer    

(1969-70)

Seabird Colony Register    

(1985-88)

Seabird 2000    

(1998-2002)

Population estimate (AOB*) 4,255 11,116 10,328
% change since previous census    N/a +161 -7

 

*AOB = Apparently Occupied Burrows

 

Breeding abundance

 

Puffin Skomer abundance 2015

Figure 1: Abundance of Atlantic puffin on Skomer (Dyfed) based on counts of individuals attending the colony in spring, 1986-2015.

 

The number of Atlantic puffins in Wales increased by 161% between Operation Seafarer and the Seabird Colony Register, with little change thereafter up to Seabird 2000. Few Welsh colonies of any size are monitored on an annual basis. However, on Skomer (Dyfed, which held c.70% of the national population during Seabird 2000), regular counts are undertaken of adults attending the colony in spring. For a variety of factors these counts can vary quite markedly between years compared with counts of apparently occupied burrows (AOB). In 2011, no counts of attending adults were completed due to a lack of obvious evening gatherings until much later in the spring; by then, breeding would have commenced resulting in low counts due to birds being out of view in their burrows. In 2012, 11,497 individuals were recorded in spring, slightly fewer than in 2009 and 2010. However, in 2015, over 21,000 individuals were counted attending the colony in early April. As suggested in last year’s report this apparent increase of birds above ground cannot be due to later breeding by Atlantic puffins on Skomer (as observed during 2013 and 2014) because the first egg in 2015 was found on the 9th of May, ten days earlier than 2014. When calculating back from the first Puffin seen carrying fish (28th of May) the first eggs would have been laid around the 19th to the 21st of April. As can be seen, after two late seasons in a row, 2015 is now back in line with the recent trend for earlier breeding8

 

Productivity

 

There has been no statistically significant difference in the productivity of Atlantic puffins at colonies in Wales, where an average of 0.71 chicks were fledged per apparently occupied burrow between 1986 and 2015.

Productivity on Skomer in 2015 was 0.66 chicks fledged per burrow, 13% higher than in 2014.

 

 

Population estimates and change 1969-2002 (census data)

 

 

Operation Seafarer    

(1969-70)

Seabird Colony Register    

(1985-88)

Seabird 2000    

(1998-2002)

Population estimate (AOB*) 1,436 2,678 1,610
% change since previous census    N/a +86 -40

 

*AOB = Apparently Occupied Burrows

 

Breeding abundance

 

In Northern Ireland, the Atlantic puffin population during Seabird 2000 was estimated at 1,610 AOB. Numbers had increased by 86% between Operation Seafarer and the Seabird Colony Register but then fell by 40% prior to Seabird 2000. Few data are available from more recent years. On Rathlin Island (Co. Antrim), which holds some 98% of the national population, a large decline appears to have occurred since Seabird 2000; 1,579 individuals were recorded in 1999, 731 in 2007, falling to 695 individuals by 2011. The only data received in 2015 was from the small colony at The Gobbins (Co. Antrim) where 63 individuals were recorded compared to 28 individuals during Seabird 2000.

 

Productivity

 

No systematic data on the productivity of Atlantic puffins in Northern Ireland have been submitted to the SMP.

 

 

Population estimates and change 1969-2002 (census data)

 

 

Operation Seafarer    

(1969-70)

Seabird Colony Register    

(1985-88)

Seabird 2000    

(1998-2002)

Population estimate (AOB*) 26,553 17,435 19,641
% change since previous census    N/a -34 +13

 

*AOB = Apparently Occupied Burrows

 

Breeding abundance

 

The number of Atlantic puffins in the Republic of Ireland declined by 34% between Operation Seafarer and the Seabird Colony Register but then increased by 13% by the time of Seabird 2000. The status of the species in the country since then is largely unknown. On Great Skellig (Co. Kerry), a count of individuals in early July 2010 recorded 2,170 compared to 4,000 at the same time of year in 1999. Similarly on Puffin Island (Co. Kerry), only 1,360 individuals were counted in late April 2011 compared to 5,125 in mid May 2000. Counts in July may not be indicative of a decline as counts at this time of year can be even more variable than counts in spring due to a wide variety of factors, e.g. adult attendance at the colony, influxes of immatures, differences between breeding seasons. However, the data from Puffin Island do suggest a decline might have occurred there. No data on Atlantic puffin has been submitted to the SMP since 2011.    

 

Productivity

 

Data submitted to the SMP on the productivity of Atlantic puffins in the Republic of Ireland are sparse; thus, no meaningful average productivity value can be given.

 

 

Population estimates and change 1969-2002 (census data)

 

 

Operation Seafarer    

(1969-70)

Seabird Colony Register    

(1985-88)

Seabird 2000    

(1998-2002)

Population estimate (AOB*) 27,989 20,113 21,251
% change since previous census    N/a -28 +6

 

*AOB = Apparently Occupied Burrows

 

Breeding abundance

 

Overall, numbers of Atlantic puffins throughout Ireland fell by 28% between Operation Seafarer and the Seabird Colony Register with little further change recorded during Seabird 2000. Few sizeable colonies have been monitored in either Northern Ireland or the Republic of Ireland since the last national census, so data are sparse and no firm conclusions can be drawn as to population trends. Please refer to the entries for the two individual countries for details of the most recent counts in each.

 

Productivity

 

Data submitted to the SMP on the productivity of Atlantic puffins from colonies throughout Ireland are sparse; thus, no meaningful average productivity value can be given.

 

 

Population estimates and change 1969-2002 (census data)

 

 

Operation Seafarer    

(1969-70)

Seabird Colony Register    

(1985-88)

Seabird 2000    

(1998-2002)

Population estimate (AOB*) 82 93 85
% change since previous census    N/a +13 -9

 

*AOB = Apparently Occupied Burrows

 

Breeding abundance

 

The Isle of Man has had a small but fairly stable population of Atlantic puffins since Operation Seafarer in 1969-70. Numbers have ranged from 82-93 pairs over the three censuses. There are no recent counts to indicate the species' status post Seabird 2000..  

 

Productivity

 

No systematic data on the productivity of Atlantic puffins on the Isle of Man have been submitted to the SMP.

 

 

Population estimates and change 1969-2002 (census data)

 

 

Operation Seafarer    

(1969-70)

Seabird Colony Register    

(1985-88)

Seabird 2000    

(1998-2002)

Population estimate (AOB*) 1,116 335 311
% change since previous census    N/a -70 -7

 

*AOB = Apparently Occupied Burrows

 

Breeding abundance

 

Atlantic puffins nesting on the Channel Islands have declined greatly since Operation Seafarer recorded over 1,100 pairs. Numbers during the Seabird Colony Register and Seabird 2000 were similar but had fallen by 70% prior to the 1985-88 census. Few data on the status of the species have been received recently other than from Burhou, the largest colony which held almost 60% (180 individuals/pairs) of the local population during Seabird 2000. Near annual counts have been made at this colony between 2005 and 2014 with numbers ranging from 114 to 176 AOB (mean 144 AOB), perhaps suggesting a slight decline has occurred. No data was submitted to the SMP in 2015.

 

Productivity

 

Data submitted to the SMP on the productivity of Atlantic puffins on the Channel Islands are sparse; thus, no meaningful average productivity value can be given.

 

 


UK phenology, diet, survival rates

 

Phenology

 

No systematic data on phenology (timing of life-cycle events) have been collected as part of the SMP.

 

Diet

 

Our understanding of puffin diet comes from data collected at a few geographically dispersed key sites. Because diet is likely to vary from site to site, and given few sites are monitored, caution should be used in drawing wider geographical conclusions from these data.

 

Sandeels (Ammodytesspp.), an energy-rich shoaling fish, comprise a large proportion of the diet of Atlantic puffins at two sites where diet is studied. The proportion of sandeels fluctuates yearly; at Fair Isle (Shetland, Figure 3), it has declined over the monitoring period (especially the 'large' size class which has virtually disappeared from samples since 2002), though on the Isle of May (Figure 4) there appears to be no clear trend. However, the size and energy content of sandeels caught by and available to Atlantic puffins on the Isle of May declined over the period 1973-20021, and in some years (such as 2004) the energy content of sandeels was found to be far lower than would be expected for their size and coincided with very poor breeding success for Atlantic puffins and other sandeel-feeders2. The mean mass of food loads brought to puffin chicks on Fair Isle has declined since the mid 1990s onward (Figure 5) and, in 2014, was at its lowest level since monitoring began (1.3g). In 2015, mean mass increased slightly to 2.7g. This may have contributed to low breeding success during some years. The causes for the change in the size of sandeels around the Isle of May are probably due to climate change rather than from the effects of fishing.

 

Between 2004 and 2008, snake pipefish Entelurus aequoreus appeared in the diets of many seabirds around the UK3 -including Atlantic puffins during 2006-2007. The energy content of this bony fish, which before the early 2000s was scarce in UK waters, is very low4. Snake pipefish, therefore did not provide an alternative energy source during a time when puffin's usual prey species (sandeels and sprats) were scare. Indeed, pipefish can choke chicks when fed to them in quantity. The reason for the appearance of snake pipefish was uncertain, but was not thought to be related to climate change. Since 2008, the snake pipefish has once again become scarce in UK waters..

Puffin Fair Isle fish loads 2015

Figure 3: Composition of fish loads brought to puffin chicks at Fair Isle (Shetland), 1986-2015.

Puffin Isle of May sandeels 2015

Figure 4: Percentage of sandeels (by weight) in the diet of young puffins at the Isle of May (North-east Fife), 1987-2015.

Puffin Fair Isle mean mass 2015

Figure 5: Mean mass (g) of fish loads brought to puffin chicks at Fair Isle (Shetland), 1986-2015.

 

Return rates and survival rates

 

Important notes on interpretation:

Estimation of Atlantic puffin adult return rate and survival rate is currently only undertaken at two sites within the Seabird Monitoring Programme - the Isle of May and Skomer. Return rates are based on sightings of individually colour-ringed birds and are calculated as the proportion of marked birds present in year one that is seen in the following year. Because not every adult alive is seen each year, return rates for 2015 presented here for Isle of May need to be treated as minimum estimates of survival of birds seen in 2014. In contrast, survival estimates - as presented here for Skomer - do take into account birds that are not seen one year but which re-appear in following years.

 

Return rate of Atlantic puffins breeding on the Isle of May (Figure 6) has shown no consistent trend, though declined slightly between the mid 1990s and the mid 2000s. It did, however, fall to extremely low levels in 2007 and 2008, which was the likely cause of a population decline on the island noted between 2003 and 2008. Since then the return rate has risen to more typical levels. Atlantic puffins breeding on Skomer (Figure 7) show a noticeable downward trend in survival, but without the sharp declines in 2007 and 2008 that were seen on the Isle of May. Little is currently known of the causes of changes in these survival rates, although recent evidence suggests a shift in overwintering range of Isle of May breeders from the North Seas into the east Atlantic, possibly reflecting deteriorating conditions in the North Sea5.

 

In the winter of 2013/14, a succession of severe storms from late January to the beginning of March resulted in a large 'wreck' of seabirds along Atlantic coasts from England and Ireland to Spain. A minimum of 54,000 seabirds, mostly auks, were washed ashore dead or dying. Examination of many corpses revealed birds were emaciated with empty stomachs indicating starvation as the main cause of death although a small proportion showed signs of oil contamination6. About 55% of the casualties were Atlantic puffins, with recoveries of birds ringed for migration studies (over 180 were reported compared to two or three during an 'average' year) indicating many originated from UK and Irish breeding sites6. Examination of 350 dead puffins recovered from beaches in the UK also indicated 78% were adults and 5% birds in their first winter. Total mortality will be much higher as not all beaches were checked, birds were washed ashore over a number of weeks and many birds will be lost unrecorded at sea6.

 

The effect of this 'wreck' on breeding populations is now emerging. Only 59.6% of 2013’s breeding adults retuned to Skomer in 2014, the poorest on record and a drop of almost 25% on 2012-13 (84.2%). Long-term capture-recapture analyses show that the reliable estimate of average survival remains at 0.91, with signs of a recovery in survival rates after the steady decline beginning in the late 1980s. The effects of the 2013-14 storms are revealed by 2015’s Puffin resighting data (a total of 74.2% breeding adults), which allows the estimation of survival rates that was previously not possible with confidence. Puffin survival dropped from the study’s annual average of 91% (1973-2013) to 68% in 2013-14. This comes as no surprise after tens of thousands of auks were washed up dead on the Atlantic coast of North-Western Europe, but now we can be more confident that the drop in the numbers of returning adults in 2014 was not due to gaps in breeding. The long-term impacts of severe climatic events such as the 2013-14 seabird wreck remain poorly understood. More long-term seabird studies are needed.8

Puffin Isle of May return rate 2015

Figure 6: Annual return rate of Atlantic puffin breeding on the Isle of May (North-east Fife), 1987-2015.

Puffin Skomer survival 2015

Figure 7: Annual survival rate of Atlantic puffin breeding on Skomer (Dyfed), 1986-2014.

 


References

1 Wanless, S., Wright, P.J., Harris, M.P. and Elston, D.A. 2004. Evidence for decrease in size of lesser sandeels Ammodytes marinus in a North Sea aggregation over a 30-yr period. Marine Ecology Progress Series 279: 237-246.

2 Wanless, S., Harris, M.P., Redman, P. and Speakman, J.R. 2005. Low energy values of fish as a probable cause of a major seabird breeding failure in the North Sea. Marine Ecology Progress Series 294: 1-8.

3 Harris, M. P., Beare, D., Toresen, R., Nøttestad, L., Kloppmann, M., Dörner, H., Peach, K., Rushton, D. R. A., Foster-Smith, J. and Wanless, S. 2007. A major increase in snake pipefish (Entelurus aequoreus) in northern European seas since 2003: potential implications for seabird breeding success. Marine Biology 151: 973-983.

4 Harris, M.P., Newell, M., Daunt, F., Speakman, J. and Wanless, S. 2007. Snake pipefish Entelurus aequoreus are poor food for seabirds. Ibis 150: 413-415.

5 Harris, M.P., Daunt, F., Newell, M., Phillips, R.A. and Wanless, S. 2009.  Wintering areas of adult Atlantic puffins Fratercula arctica from a North Sea colony as revealed by geolocation technology. Marine Biology .DOI 10.1007/s00227-009-1365-0.

6 Jessop, H. Seabird tragedy in the north-east Atlantic winter 2013/14. Unpublished report, RSPB, Sandy.

7 Steele, D. 2012. Farne Islands Breeding Birds Report 2012. Unpublished report, The National Trust, Northumberland.

8 Stubbings, E.M., Büche, B.I., Miquel Riera, E., Green, R.M. and Wood, M.J. 2015. Seabird monitoring on Skomer Island in 2015.


Partners

Data have been provided to the SMP by the generous contributions of its partners, other organisations and volunteers throughout Britain and Ireland. Partners to the SMP are: BirdWatch Ireland; The British Trust for Ornithology; Centre for Ecology and Hydrology; Natural Resources Wales; Department of Environment, Food and Agriculture (Isle of Man); Department of Environment, Heritage and Local Government (Republic of Ireland); States of Guernsey Government; JNCC; Manx Birdlife; Manx National Heritage; The National Trust; National Trust for Scotland; Natural England; Northern Ireland Environment Agency; The Royal Society for the Protection of Birds; Scottish Natural Heritage; Seabird Group; Shetland Oil Terminal Environmental Advisory Group; Scottish Wildlife Trust.  More about the SMP partners >>

 
Puffin image appears courtesy of Ian Rendall ©, is subject to international copyright law and may not be reproduced in any form whatsoever.