Orkney Puffins

Everybody’s darling, the puffin, or the tammie norrie as it is affectionately known in Orkney, brings a smile to the face of anyone lucky enough to see it.  This small auk is worth seeking out in some of the hotspots in the isles where they come every year to breed between May and early August.  The best site in Orkney to see large numbers is Castle of Burrian on Westray.  Here you can sit on the cliffsides for hours and watch these charming birds fly with their catch to their burrows and crevices in the cliffs.  You can also get close views at the RSPB’s North Hill reserve on Papa Westray and you can spot a few at Marwick Head in the west mainland, at the Old Man of Hoy, Noup Cliffs on Westray and the isle of Copinsay.  There are 61,000 puffins in Orkney but 59,000 of these are on remote Sule Skerry, 40 miles west of the Orkney mainland.

The puffin is much smaller than expected on the first encounter.  But though they appear clumsy on land and comical, the puffin is an expert diver and underwater flier while fishing and it flies in the air with very fast wing beats to keep itself aloft.  It can hold many fish, sandeels are the favourite, in its beak, while photographers wait for that elusive shot.  Just one egg is laid a year.  The chick is fed frequently and leaves the nest alone around July for the sea.  It will make no landfall for the first two years of its life.  Outside the breeding season the puffin spends all its time at sea in the north Atlantic and North Sea.  But when they land they must be the most popular bird to photograph, being snapped up for guidebooks, postcards and merchandise wherever they go.

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