Puffins Coast


Puffins

Miranda Krestovnikoff meets the puffins of the Shiant Isles.


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The Shiant Islands are home to one of the biggest puffin colonies around our coast.

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Every April, thousands of these little squat birds appear from the North Atlantic Ocean

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on an epic journey back to these islands where they were born.

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The puffins have come here to breed, and with a bit of luck,

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most of the eggs will have hatched by now and the proud parents should

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be scurrying in and out of their burrows with food for the chicks.

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That makes it the best time of year for me to get close to these charismatic birds

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and find out just how well they survive on these windswept islands.

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Dumpy, with Day-Glo bills, tangerine feet and tails that look

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as if they've had an encounter with a carving knife,

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puffins are surprisingly agile birds, both in the air and in the sea -

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useful skills when you spend over seven months of the year

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covering thousands of miles of the vast Atlantic!

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The Shiant Islands are a far cry from the puffins' solitary ocean life.

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Here, they've got to get along with the neighbours - 150,000 of them.

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Living so tightly packed together on the island,

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puffins have developed advanced ways of communicating by calling

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to each other, using their bills and different body postures.

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I've just been looking at a group down there. There's one standing up

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very straight and upright. Basically that's saying, "This is my territory and I own this burrow."

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But their posturing is not all about property.

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Puffins mate for life, and they have their own special way of showing affection.

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In this bleak environment,

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there's little in the way of building material for nests,

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so the puffins have to be resourceful to keep their little ones safe. If they can't build up,

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they dig down.

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-Hi.

-Hi, Martin. How are you doing?

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Martin Scott, conservation officer with the RSPB,

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knows this colony well.

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-This slope is just littered with burrows, isn't it?

-Yeah. Here's one just here.

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Looks promising, doesn't it?

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Do they come back to the same burrow every year?

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They do. They come back, clean it out and then re-line it

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with this nice sort of bed of dry grass.

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Puffins are really the perfect digging machine.

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They dig out very easily in the soft, peaty soil here so that's why

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-this embankment is covered in burrows.

-There's also a large number nesting on the rocks.

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-Is there any advantage to that environment?

-The rocks will be a lot more exposed, but they drain easier.

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Peaty soil has the potential to get waterlogged, although the peat can act as an insulator to the nests.

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Home life on the Shiant Islands is made even more agreeable

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by the rich pickings in the sea. The plankton-rich water is ideal

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if you're a great swimmer and love to eat small fish.

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This is the perfect place to get up close to these versatile birds

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and observe how well they perform under water.

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Watching them chase fish,

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their quirky body shape suddenly makes sense.

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Their wings act as fins and their webbed feet become a rudder,

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making them fly through the water with incredible grace.

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These puffins can dive to a depth of over 60 metres -

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that's as much as a 15-storey building!

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Although here, they only dive to around 20 metres

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to find the sand eels that they feed on.

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To snap their prey,

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they can reach speeds of five-and-a-half miles an hour.

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Seeing these birds under water, it's hard to believe they're also creatures of the sky,

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as slick as seals, but as flight-loving as seagulls.

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The puffins are totally at home here, both above and below the water line.

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Subtitles by Red Bee Media Ltd

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E-mail [email protected]

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