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Every summer, adventurous, though slightly confused, pufflings are rescued from a range of tight spots along the Firth of Forth coastline, including underneath cars, behind bins and plant pots.
The puffin is red-listed by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) as it is globally vulnerable and declining in numbers. By reporting any unusual sightings of the small grey chicks, residents and visitors play a vital role in helping this much-loved seabird. Once reported, the team from the Scottish SPCA or the Scottish Seabird Centre can collect the pufflings and release them in safer areas, away from known predators.
Scottish Seabird Centre Conservation Officer, Emily Burton, explained: “Puffins and their pufflings are now leaving their burrows on the Isle of May and other islands in the Firth of Forth. Pufflings fledge at night to avoid predation and some pufflings can become disorientated by lights from the mainland. This may see them flying into town and seeking somewhere dark to hide from predators such as underneath cars, behind bins and under plants in gardens.
“When we’re notified of their misadventures, we carefully collect the pufflings take them out to sea and release them, well away from the dangers of the mainland. They then typically swim off into the North Sea, where they will stay for the next three years.
“We are appealing for people to be extra vigilant over the next few weeks and, if they spot a puffling, to immediately alert the Scottish Seabird Centre on 01620 890202 or the Scottish SPCA on 03000 999 999.”
“It is important to note that pufflings look completely different from their adult counterparts. People often don’t realise what they can see is a puffling. They are shades of grey, white and black; their smaller beaks don’t have the characteristic bright colours that the adults have during the summer.”
This year, around 4000 occupied puffin burrows were recorded on Craigleith and around 45,000 in total on islands in the Forth, with two adults and one puffling for each successful burrow nest.
The Scottish Seabird Centre leads a number of campaigns focusing on the conservation of seabirds and the marine environment including SOS Puffin, a project to remove an invasive plant called tree mallow. This plant can prevent puffins from nesting on the nearby islands of Fidra, the Lamb and Craigleith, and cause significant population decline.
Over the last 14 years more than 1300 SOS Puffin volunteers have made regular trips to the islands to control the tree mallow, allowing the populations of breeding puffins to recover.
On the Isle of May in the outer Firth of Forth, where around 42,000 pairs of puffins flocked to breed this summer, NatureScot staff and seabird researchers worked to rescue 40 day old chicks after they leave their nests in burrows on the island for the last time.
While most pufflings fly out to sea under cover of darkness to avoid predatory gulls, a few are found wandering lost on the island in daylight, where they can be easy prey.