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Scotland is Seabird Central with Puffins Playing a Starring Role

Perhaps it comes as no surprise that our avian friends consider Scotland’s sea coast and outlying islands prime real estate for breeding, feeding, and coasting on a gust of wind, but did you know that puffins consider the cliff ledges of Britain’s country to the far north the best place on earth? Nesting on the edge of the sea cliffs, puffins return from the sea when the cliffs are covered in wildflowers.

While their numbers were once considered so concentrated that a flock of puffins created a “bewildering darkness” in the sky, these birds with their distinctly bright parrot-like red and yellow beaks and sad eyes, all but disappeared for decades when sailors mistakenly brought rats on ships in the 1870s. The rodent invasion decimated the puffin inhabitants until the numbers dwindled to near extinction in the 1930s. Nearly sixty years would pass before puffins returned en masse to the Aryshire coast. A partnership between the University of Glasgow, the Marquess of Alisa and Scottish National Heritage exterminated the rat population. Several tons of poison, flown in by navy helicopter, allowed puffins to breed freely without the danger of losing their young to the interloping rodents.

Birders to Scotland marvel at the cliff-nesting birds on five reserves in the Shetland Islands and are best seen during the month of May. Guided walks by the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB) are led by amicable and knowledgeable guides. Nearly 200,000 people visit the award-winning Scottish Seabird Center in North Beriwick.

With the longest hours of sunlight in Britain, visitors to the Shetland Islands have plenty of time to view the beloved puffins when the birds return from their winter at sea. Returning to the same spot from the previous year, puffins eagerly dodge the sea cliffs with the intention of finding the same mate. A seafaring story to be sure for sailors and land lovers alike, puffins may just bring out the romantic in you.


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