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Unusual Puffin Behaviour Exposed

by Deborah Leggate -

ASBO Puffin?

Underground camera reveals a darker side to the nation's favourite seabird

The Sumburgh Head webcam puffin chick should soon fledge the nest, but there have been occasions where its survival has been uncertain. Not only has the chick been fed a rather poor diet, but it has also been victim to brutal attacks - by another puffin!

There has been at least six occasions when a fully grown puffin was witnessed entering the burrow and attacking the vulnerable chick. The puffin enters the burrow and pecks, throttles and kicks the youngster. As puffins nest out of sight it wasn't known that this sort of behaviour happened.

Helen Moncrieff, RSPB warden said "The camera has beena great success revealing all sorts of behaviour, from scenes of tenderness between parent and chick to discovering that the youngster likes to snack on live centipedes. What we never expected to witness was the violence. As this antisocial behaviour has been capturedon CCTV, the intruder has been nicknamed "ASBO puffin."

The exact cause of the attacks isn't clear but Helen believes it could be down to the age of the birds: "Many of the puffins spotted at the RSPB reserve are non-breeders (the breeding adults are often underground with their egg or chick, or out at sea foraging for fish). These non-breeding individuals have been compared to teenagers hanging out, getting to know themselves and each other and they do wander into burrows. We assume that the attacks have been by at least one non-breeding puffin that has taken a dislike to our chick. It is possible that other chicks have been victim to attacks, but we really don't know why."

Puffins are enjoyed by thousands of people visiting Sumburgh Head each summer. The birds are easy to love, owing to their unmistakable appearance, curiousness and relative tameness. Since spring, a webcam has helped reveal the secret world of a puffin burrow.

So far, there has been over 100,000 hits between the RSPB and Promote Shetland websites. Both organisations have received positive feedback from the camera and have been told of people having parties to celebrate the chick hatching, office workers taking sneaky breaks from routine work, and a London couple deciding to holiday in Shetland because of puffincam.

Helen added: "Thankfully, the chick found the strength to recover from the attacks. The earliest possible date the chick could have left the burrow was 19 July. However, it has had a quite a poor diet of small and few sandeels. The chick still has some downy feathers and may leave any day now, although it is still rathersmall. It's been a privilege watching the puffins and we hope to doit all again next year."

To view the live puffincam go to or

Edited Highlights at


Additional Notes

Puffin Facts

Puffins stand less than 30cm tall, far smaller than most people expect.

Their body size is similar to apint carton of milk.

It is very difficult to distinguish between male and female puffins. The male puffin is, on average,slightly larger and heavier than females. Males also have longer and deeper beaks than the female, but only by 10%.

Puffins can live for more than 30 years.

Puffins spend the winter at sea, only coming ashore during the breeding season.

They breed along the borders ofthe North Atlantic and Arctic Oceans.

One in ten of the world's puffins breed in the British Isles.

The UK is home to more than halfa million breeding pairs.

Puffins begin breeding at around 5-6 years old. Puffins which are too young to breed are seen at puffin colonies, interacting with one another. These occasions can be compared toteenage youth clubs.

Puffins lay a single egg, in late April or early May. Both parents incubate it for 36-45 days.

The puffincam egg was laid on 6May.

The egg hatched on 15 June.

The webcam is situated in the same burrow that was used in "Simon King's Shetland Diaries"

The burrow is unusual as it has two entrances. This means natural light fills the burrow, allowing us to see the images in colour. If infra-red lighting was used, the images would be black and white

Both parents share the feeding duties until the chick is ready to fledge.

It can take between 34-60 days for the chick to fledge.

The adult birds leave their chick shortly before it is ready to leave the nest.

Departure of colonies are highly synchronised, so the departure of all adults takes place within a few days. At Sumburgh Head, this is usually around 15 August.

Puffins are able to carry large numbers of fish in their bill. A normal load would be around 5-10fish, depending on size, but the maximum recorded is 62 fish.

As with many seabirds inShetland, sandeels are an important part of a puffins diet.

The main threat to puffins isthe changes in distribution and numbers of small fish, while ground predators(eg rat, mink, cat) introduced to breeding colonies and pollution are also serious hazards.

Puffins are called "Tammy Nories" in Shetland.

RSPB are grateful to Promote Shetland for providing the technology, allowing the images to feed to the internet and to Shetland Amenity Trust for supporting the Date With Nature at Sumburgh Head

For more information/interviews/images, please contact RSPB Scotland'sSouth Shetland Warden Helen Moncrieff on 01950 460800 or 07887 625 991


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