Wednesday 23 October 2019

Puffins abandon air travel for sea to find food

Puffins riding on strong tides may be saving up to 46pc of the energy that would normally be used if they were flying between food patches. Photo: PA
Puffins riding on strong tides may be saving up to 46pc of the energy that would normally be used if they were flying between food patches. Photo: PA

Ralph Riegel

A new wildlife study has revealed puffins have critically modified their hunting behaviour to exploit strong tidal currents.

The behaviour modification by the birds allows them to slash their energy usage by up to 46pc - and exploit currents in the Irish Sea to give them a "free ride" between feeding zones.

The study, led by Ashley Bennison, was an international collaboration between MaREI (the SFI Research Centre for Energy, Climate and Marine) and the UK conservation charity, Zoological Society of London (ZSL).

It has been hailed as a remarkable insight into the adaptation of a bird species to its specific environment.

The study was conducted over a two-year period and involved the puffins being tracked from Little Saltee off the Wexford coast with GPS technology.

Previous tracking studies have universally shown that seabirds travel between often distant patches at sea to concentrate their feeding.

Flying between these prey patches can be tiring, particularly for puffins whose wings are short and adapted for swimming underwater.

"Our puffins have completely dispensed with the need to fly between patches of food, instead using strong tidal currents in the Irish Sea to move them between patches of fish at sea," Ms Bennison explained.

Puffins riding on strong tides may be saving up to 46pc of the energy that would normally be used if they were flying between food patches.

ZSL's senior conservation programme manager for UK and Europe, Alison Debney, said the study underlined the need for further research.

Irish Independent

Editor's Choice

Also in Irish News