…are keenly interesting to behold, but few are as lovable as the Puffin! When first looking at these birds, they seem out of balance. Their colorful beaks would seem too heavy for the puffin’s body and their two bright red feet could act like kites, blowing these birds off course in the Atlantic winds.
Belonging to the Auk species, the one found on Shetland is the Fratercula arctica type. In Latin, the word Fratercula basically means “little brother” and this is a most fitting description of the puffins found here. They are small for a comparable ocean-dwelling bird (about 32 cm in height). Their wings are adapted for diving and their tight, thick growth of feathers for warmth.
They can dive deeply into the cold Atlantic to depths up to 60 meters. They eat fish, like herring, but prefer the sandeel and can carry a load of these in its beak with ease. The Puffins mate for life, can burrow deep into coastal banks to make a nest and after fledging, or having taken care of their chicks until these can fly, the puffins head out and are at sea during the winter.
During our visit in August, 2006 we saw quite a few puffins at Sumburgh Head. Just now, there isn’t that many. Puffins are having difficulties in finding food. Ocean pollution has influenced the sandeels and the puffin population is in danger. It takes a long time for the puffin population to return to normal, due to a long reproductive rate.
So, the word Fratercula is well-choosen. Our little brother! Let’s all enjoy these wonderful birds and help so that our great-great-grandchildren can see them! (as well as many other birds and animals!)