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.
Every April, thousands of these little squat birds appear from the North Atlantic Ocean
on an epic journey back to these islands where they were born.
The puffins have come here to breed, and with a bit of luck,
most of the eggs will have hatched by now and the proud parents should
be scurrying in and out of their burrows with food for the chicks.
That makes it the best time of year for me to get close to these charismatic birds
and find out just how well they survive on these windswept islands.
Dumpy, with Day-Glo bills, tangerine feet and tails that look
as if they've had an encounter with a carving knife,
puffins are surprisingly agile birds, both in the air and in the sea -
useful skills when you spend over seven months of the year
covering thousands of miles of the vast Atlantic!
The Shiant Islands are a far cry from the puffins' solitary ocean life.
Here, they've got to get along with the neighbours - 150,000 of them.
Living so tightly packed together on the island,
puffins have developed advanced ways of communicating by calling
to each other, using their bills and different body postures.
I've just been looking at a group down there. There's one standing up
very straight and upright. Basically that's saying, "This is my territory and I own this burrow."
But their posturing is not all about property.
Puffins mate for life, and they have their own special way of showing affection.
In this bleak environment,
there's little in the way of building material for nests,
so the puffins have to be resourceful to keep their little ones safe. If they can't build up,
they dig down.
-Hi, Martin. How are you doing?
Martin Scott, conservation officer with the RSPB,
knows this colony well.
-This slope is just littered with burrows, isn't it?
-Yeah. Here's one just here.
Looks promising, doesn't it?
Do they come back to the same burrow every year?
They do. They come back, clean it out and then re-line it
with this nice sort of bed of dry grass.
Puffins are really the perfect digging machine.
They dig out very easily in the soft, peaty soil here so that's why
-this embankment is covered in burrows.
-There's also a large number nesting on the rocks.
-Is there any advantage to that environment?
-The rocks will be a lot more exposed, but they drain easier.
Peaty soil has the potential to get waterlogged, although the peat can act as an insulator to the nests.
Home life on the Shiant Islands is made even more agreeable
by the rich pickings in the sea. The plankton-rich water is ideal
if you're a great swimmer and love to eat small fish.
This is the perfect place to get up close to these versatile birds
and observe how well they perform under water.
Watching them chase fish,
their quirky body shape suddenly makes sense.
Their wings act as fins and their webbed feet become a rudder,
making them fly through the water with incredible grace.
These puffins can dive to a depth of over 60 metres -
that's as much as a 15-storey building!
Although here, they only dive to around 20 metres
to find the sand eels that they feed on.
To snap their prey,
they can reach speeds of five-and-a-half miles an hour.
Seeing these birds under water, it's hard to believe they're also creatures of the sky,
as slick as seals, but as flight-loving as seagulls.
The puffins are totally at home here, both above and below the water line.
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