Weather worn puffins ferried home

The three juvenile puffins, who were among an influx of 40 seabirds rescued by the RSPCA during the heavy winter storms, took a journey across to Lundy Island on MS Oldenburg following two months rehabilitation, rest and recuperation at RSPCA West Hatch Wildlife Centre.

The birds made the 22-mile trip across the Bristol Channel before being transferred on to a small boat and transported further away from the main ferry and being released on to the sea in Gannet’s Bay.

The young puffins are currently in moult, which means their flight feathers are not fully formed and a usual clifftop release was replaced with a release on to water.

Wildlife supervisor at RSPCA West Hatch Paul Oaten said: “The puffins were young and exhausted when they came in to us a couple of months ago but they have made wonderful progress. They have been fed a diet of sprats and are now all ready to make their way back to Lundy Island.

“We’ve had more than the usual amount of storm blown birds in to the centre so far because of the severe weather we experienced at the beginning of the year. But puffins are one of the more unusual ones.

“The puffins were just completely worn out by the stormy weather. It was lucky members of the public spotted them at their various locations.”

They were found dotted along the south west shoreline. One bird was found by a member of the public huddling for shelter under a caravan at the Brean Sands Caravan Park on the Somerset coast.

Atlantic puffins aren’t usual visitors to the beaches of Somerset and it is thought these three were blown in by the strong winds at the start of the year.

Staff at RSPCA West Hatch and Lundy Island collaborated in the release project so the birds could be released as close to the colonies on the eastern side of the island as possible.

Lundy Island warden Beccy MacDonald said: “It is wonderful we are able to assist RSPCA West Hatch with the release of these three puffins. As they are unable to fly, we released them at a safe distance from the Lundy coast so that they will be able to join other seabirds currently rafting off the east coast of the island ready for this year’s breeding season.

“It will be interesting to see if we are able to spot them on the slopes during the summer breeding season once they have re-grown their feathers over the next few weeks. We already have one puffin on the island so these three will soon be joined by many more.”

As well as the three puffins, RSPCA West Hatch has been inundated with other storm blown birds this winter with birds such as guillemots, kittiwakes, gannets and razor bills, coming in from across the region especially from the Chesil Beach area of Dorset.

RSPCA Vice-president Bill Oddie said: “The staff at RSPCA West Hatch Wildlife Centre have worked tirelessly caring for these young puffins, along with the dozens of other storm blown birds who were victims of the bad weather at the beginning of the year.

“Everyone loves puffins and these three are very lucky to have been brought back to health after a very tough winter and Lundy is a fantastic place for them to be. They will be a welcome boost to the population on the island too.”

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Notes to editors:

?     —  Images are available on request

?     —  The Atlantic puffin (Fratercula arctica) also known as the common puffin is not considered to be endangered although there numbers are in decline.

?     — The Atlantic puffin spends the autumn and winter in the open ocean of the cold northern seas and returns to coastal areas at the start of the breeding season in late spring.