Saturday 24 March 2018

Finding that winter retreat takes a lot of huffin and puffin

Grainne Cunningham

THEY disappear at the end of the summer and little is known about where they go until they return in the springtime.

Now the mystery of where nesting Irish puffins spend their winters is expected to be solved in the coming weeks, when the results of a year-long study are revealed.

Last summer, a team of scientists from University College Cork placed geolocator tags on the clown-faced birds on Skellig Michael, off the coast of Kerry; and in the coming week, they will remove them again and analyse the data.

The tags, which weigh about two grams, measure dawn and dusk light levels, and from that, scientists can work out roughly where the birds have been, explained researcher Mark Jessop, who expects the results to be "fascinating".

They will also take some feathers to test what they have been eating, which will offer more clues about their winter holiday destination.

It is believed the birds may fly south to the Bay of Biscay for the winter or may head for the Atlantic. Whether their feathers show signs of a diet rich in oily fish or in zoo plankton will offer scientists evidence of their destination.

"Puffins are one of the biggest tourist draws on the Skelligs but we know so little about them," Mr Jessop said.

The little black and white bird, with its orange beak and melancholic expression, nests in burrows on jagged cliffs, making it next to impossible to count or monitor behaviour patterns.

Irish Independent

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