Puffin numbers are falling on UK's Farne Islands

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Monday, July 28, 2008

A puffin on Farne Islands in 2006.
Image: Matthias Meckel.

Puffin numbers are declining on the Farne Islands, where the United Kingdom's largest colony resides. During the past five years, the puffin population on the islands has decreased by a third. Experts had expected numbers to rise this year, but now with news of the decline, are citing an inability to find food as the probable cause.

Numbers of puffins have also been declining on the Isle of May, 100 miles north. Professor Mike Harris, Emeritus Research Fellow at the Centre for Ecology and Hydrology, said that the birds spend eight months at sea, and some do not return, which may be the cause of the lowering population.

Puffins, like many auks, feed on fish and zooplankton. It is not known if man-made causes, such as over-fishing or climate change, have lowered the amount of food available to puffins, causing them to starve while at sea.

"Whether it is climate change or man-induced we just don't know but I suspect the cause is oceanographic and it has resulted in the birds being unable to find enough to eat," said Professor Harris.