Puffins have returned to the Farne Islands off the Northumberland coast, cared for by the National Trust, for the start of the breeding season.
The islands are currently closed to the public due to the coronavirus but the National Trust rangers are keeping a watchful eye on the precious seabird colony.
The first puffins returning to the islands this year were spotted in March, but the islands are now at full capacity with rangers witnessing first-hand their courtship displays, burrow clearing and general preparations for the breeding season.
Harriet Reid, National Trust Ranger on the Farne Islands, says: “Puffins were first recorded back on the Farnes on 20 March, although they were first spotted a couple of weeks earlier when they were rafting off the islands. This is something they do early in the season when they meet in groups out to sea before moving onto the islands. Since then we have witnessed plenty of bill tapping and puffins with muddy fronts which is a sign they’re readying their burrows for their precious eggs.”
Despite the current challenges to typical working practices faced by the team, maintaining and protecting the puffin habitat remains a top priority. Their work is critical to the puffins’ ongoing breeding success.
Puffins are a vulnerable species with populations seeing a severe decline across the world over the last 25 years. They are currently under threat due to climate change with rising sea temperatures affecting their food sources, particularly the sand eel, which likes to live in cooler waters.
Last year more than 43,000 pairs of birds were recorded in what was the first annual survey of the colony. Previously the counts had been conducted every five years.
Numbers on the Farnes have been steady over the past few years due to the islands having very few predators.
The results are fed into national data that helps monitor the wider population. Half of the UK population is based at just a handful of sites.