10 facts about puffins, and where to see them

Charming, clownish puffins are one of Britain's most rewarding birds to spot in the wild. Lois Bronze unearths fascinating facts about them and picks the best spots to see them in Britain. 

A puffin stretches its wings among summer flowers on the island of Skomer in Wales.

Ten fascinating facts about puffins

1, Puffins are carnivores, living off small fish such as herring, hake and sand eels.


2, Puffins are one of few birds that have the ability to hold several fish in their bills at one time. Their rough tongues allow them to have a firm grasp on 10-12 fish during one foraging trip.

3, Puffins can dive for up to a minute, although they generally stay underwater for about thirty seconds. When in the water, they can dive as deep as sixty metres.

4, In spring and summer thousands of Puffins gather in colonies on the coast and North Atlantic Ocean to breed.

5, Each year puffins usually only lay one egg, and they usually stay with the  same mate throughout their lifetime.

6, Puffins are strong flyers. They can move their wings up to 400 times a minute and move through the air at 88km an hour.

7, In winter Puffins shed their outer bills, leaving smaller, duller ones behind. Their brighter red and grey plates are grown in again ahead of breeding season to attract potential mates.

8, Puffins build burrows in rocky cliffs, or on the solid ground between rocks. Burrows are located three feet under the ground.

9, Their main predator is the great black-backed gull which can capture a puffin mid-flight.

10, Although Puffins are not an endangered species their numbers are on the decline. The main threats include overfishing, which can result in a shortage of food for the puffins, and pollution in particular, oil spills. Not only does the oil make the birds sick, but it also damages their waterproof feathers, which are essential for their survival.

5 top spots to find puffins

1, Farne Islands, Northumberland: The wild and windswept Farne Islands lie two miles off the Northumberland Coast. Each year puffins return to their shores to breed between April and late July. On Inner Farne, 14th-century St Cuthbert’s Chapel is open up to the public. 

2, Bempton Cliffs, Yorkshire: Bempton cliff is an ideal place to go bird watching if you aren’t able to take on long walks, as inside the seabird centre a TV screen shows live images from the cliffs. Bempton also has the largest kittiwake colony in mainland Britain. 

3, Skomer Island, Pembrokeshire: Rugged Skomer Island is surrounded by sheltered coves and shaded inlets where puffins dart in and out of their nests. 

4, Sumburgh Head, Shetland Islands: The cliffs surrounding Sumburgh are teeming with birds after the summer breeding season. Looking out to sea you may spot dolphins, harbour porpoise or even killer whales breaking the water’s surface, and on the shore common and grey seals can often be seen basking on the rocks. 

5, Isles of Scilly: Every year between 100-200 pairs of Puffins come and nest on the sub-tropical Isles of Scilly, off the Cornish coast. The islands are a nature lover’s paradise, with 30 miles of walking trails on St Mary, and the famous Abbey Garden on the island of Tresco. 


Images via Getty