The Not So Early Bird

Birds on Skomer Island are having a tough year. After the winter storms, which killed many thousands of puffins, guillemots and razorbills, the birds are facing ongoing challenges.

Normally puffins would be laying their eggs in early May and their young ones would have already fledged and be starting to leave the nests on the Pembrokeshire islands, however this year they are already two weeks late.

Puffling on Skomer Island by David Boyle

Puffling on Skomer Island by David Boyle

Pufflings, who look quite different from their charismatic parents, need to be out of the nest a couple of weeks earlier than this to increase their chances of survival as they face the next few years out in the Atlantic.

Fortunately spring counts of adult puffins remained strong, but the severe winter storms have had a great impact on the fitness of the birds. Thousands were unable to feed in the turbulent seas and so many died of starvation. Many of the surviving birds were malnourished when they returned to Skomer Island at the start of breeding season and they first had to feed up to be able to produce an egg.

Because the young birds will spend the next couple of years out at sea it will take a while to see the impacts of this anomaly in the breeding population, but if climate change creates a future in which we see an increasing frequency of such severe winter storms it could easily cause a decline in numbers.

Bee Büche, from the Wildlife Trust of South and West Wales said “Our ongoing research into seabird colonies is essential to ensure we understand the impacts on our island birds. Our long term work with seabirds allows us to see what is happening in the wider marine environment as they are such good indicators of our planet’s health.”

This really is the last opportunity for visitors to witness and enjoy watching these fascinating birds on Skomer for this year.