From Iceland — Ask A Scientist: Why Are Puffin Numbers Going Down?

Ask A Scientist: Why Are Puffin Numbers Going Down?

Published September 12, 2019

Ask A Scientist: Why Are Puffin Numbers Going Down?
Sam O'Donnell
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Submitted by subject

The puffin is a beloved bird that everybody associates with Iceland. However, recent studies have shown that their numbers have been dwindling. The Grapevine reached out to seabird ecologist Erpur Snær Hansen to ask why.

“A lack of food is basically the cause, which started in 2003. The sand eel population fell in 2005. Iceland’s south and west coasts were hit particularly hard, so few chicks fledged. It’s been poor since, but the numbers started improving in the west over the last four years or so, and in the last two years have been good. This accounts for about 65% of Iceland’s puffin population.

“The puffin population in the north has been doing OK the sand eel stock remains sufficient in that region after the departure of capelin in 2003. The east has been doing poorly.

“This year, the Westman Islands have seen the most puffins since 2007, but the pufflings have been fed low energy food for the last weeks and their departure is now about three weeks overdue, in contrast to their “normal” growth period of 42 days.

The adults’ survival seems to have been fine, they are not short of food. But there is not enough around the colonies to feed all of these chicks. So that has been the problem.”

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