19 February 2014

Puffin wreck in France

In recent weeks the full impact of the winter's storms on some of our seabirds has become apparent. With many birds now returning to breeding ledges in western Europe, they will have been caught up in the incessant low-pressure systems hitting our coasts making feeding, and life in general, very difficult. Here in the office we've received many reports of storm-driven auks and Shags, but standing out were reports of dead Puffins in France.

Razorbill M91165 was ringed as a chick on Sanda Island in 1997 and was one of 40 birds found washed ashore at Watergate Bay, Cornwall on Valentine's Day. Photo: Newquay Beach Care.
Looking back at the number of winter Puffin recoveries we normally receive from abroad (below), the total varies from year to year, but averages at fewer than three. We've seen smaller wrecks before, including 16 birds in both 1979 and 2003, but so far this year we've received reports of an unprecedented 38 birds. It's sobering to think these are just the ringed birds we know about, and each report of a ringed bird comes with the comment "one ringed bird amongst many more on beach".

Annual number of winter Puffin recoveries from abroad
You might think that the change in the number of recoveries might be due to a change in the number of birds ringed, but for such a long-lived species any changes in the annual ringing total will have minimal impact on the proportion of the population that's ringed. In fact, there were more birds ringed in the 1980s that any time since. Check the annual ringing total for Puffin on the Online Ringing Report.

Whilst seabird populations can be remarkably resilient in response to such events, it'll be interesting to see just what impact these storms have on our breeding seabirds.

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