You might’ve read one of my recent posts that discussed animals in Iceland, I went into detail about the habitats of puffins and why they love to reside on the cold, northern island. But they also live in the UK too! Read this blog post to find the top 6 places to see them – one could be near you!
Atlantic puffins are adorable, fluffy little birds with bright colourful bills. They are often called ‘sea parrots’ or ‘clowns of the sea’ due to their appearance. Many people compare them to penguins due to their similar black and white plumage and their wobbling walks but the two birds are not related.
Puffins are carnivorous birds which love to dine on small fish such as herring and zooplankton. The shape of their beaks allows them to carry multiple fish in their mouths at a time, making it easier to feed their chicks.
Puffins can fly at up to 55 mph! They are very fast little birds and can also ‘fly’ underwater. When they are diving into the sea to catch a bite to eat, they swim by flapping their wings in a flying motion too.
Puffins reach sexual maturity at around 5 years old, living up to 20 years! The birds are monogamous which means once they find a partner, they mate for life with them. Depending on the location of a colony they will either nest in burrows in the soil or in cracks along a cliff face.
Baby puffins are called pufflings and hatch from small white eggs. Both parents are responsible for feeding their baby and incubating it until it is ready to fly.
The home of North Atlantic Puffins is in fact the sea. Most of the time the birds live out at sea, far away from any coastlines. They will only return to their islands in their colonies to breed. The islands on which they have their babies are typically cold and rocky.
Rathlin Island, Northern Ireland
Rathlin Island is located on the north coast of Northern Ireland. It is just a short 40-minute ferry journey across from Ballycastle, running multiple times per day, especially in the summer months. There is a choice between a pedestrian ferry or a vehicle ferry with the pedestrian option usually being a bit quicker. See the website here to book a crossing: Rathlin Ferries.
Rathlin Island is home to lots of different wildlife including seabirds. It is most visited during the puffin season which is between April and July. The island is full of beautiful birds during this time and the seabird centre on the island offers a lot more information for anyone that is interested in learning about all of the birds that flock to the island to breed.
Puffins and Rathlin Island go hand in hand, like stroopwafels and Amsterdam, casinos and Vegas, pizza and Naples or barbeques and Australia. They’re a match made in heaven.
There are multiple walking trails across the island to undertake and with the island being only 4 miles wide it is easy to walk the length within a day. Rathlin is only home to 150 residents so it is very peaceful even in the height of summer when tourists flock to the island.
While the island is easy to navigate, I’d highly recommend a tour to help you spot the seabirds. This Rathlin Island Walking Tour offers 3 different guided trails, tailored to the wildlife you wish to see.
South Stack Cliffs, Wales
The South Stack Cliffs are found on Holy Island in Anglesey and form part of a nature reserve. In spring, guillemots, razorbills and puffins breed on the iconic cliffs. They provide a home to over 9,000 seabirds nesting in spring and early summer.
Around 180,000 people visit the site every due to its fascinating wildlife, geological marvels and operational lighthouse.
There is something for the whole family with interactive materials available in Ellin’s Tower and telescopes and binoculars for visitor use. Ellin’s Tower is open from April through to October with treasure hunt activities taking place during school holidays.
South Stack Cliffs is a really great location for puffin spotting and has been designated as both a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) and Special Protected Area (SPA) and is in an Area of Outstanding National Beauty (AONB).
Skomer Island, Wales
Skomer Island is cared for by The Wildlife Trust of South and West Wales, just less than a mile off the Pembrokeshire Coast. Visitors can take a short 15-minute ferry to reach the island and there are several options that you can choose from for a trip to Skomer.
Skomer Island is home to a vast variety of seabirds – including the main attraction, puffins from April to July. Grey seals rest on the shores all year round with their pups arriving in early autumn and winter.
A day trip is the most popular option lasting 5 hours. After being greeted on the island by staff and volunteers you are free to roam and explore as you would like. Another popular option is to stay for 2 or 3 nights in the hostel on the island. Accommodation is available from April to September but books up quickly! Overnight guests can enjoy the magnificent sunsets and sunrises as well as the masses of wildlife.
Upon arriving on the island there are a number of steps to climb so please be cautious about booking if anyone in your party has some mobility issues.
In order to keep the island biosecure and free from pesky rats there are a number of basic rules that must be followed. You can find them on the Skomer Island Website.
Bempton Cliffs, England
The RSPB nature reserve at Bempton Cliffs on the Yorkshire Coast is home to around half a million seabirds in the breeding months between March and October. Accessible by rail, bus and road the reserve is visited by thousands of groups every year.
Impressive at any time of the year the Bempton Cliffs tower over the North Sea, but during breeding season they are transformed into a seabird city – the largest in England. It is home to the largest number of gannets across the British Isles.
Aside from the cliffs, the reserve’s efforts benefit a huge array of wildlife, including seals and porpoises that can be found swimming in the waves below.
During the summer months, seabird cruises to see the puffins and gannets run Bridlington Harbour where visitors have the opportunity to see many species up close. Find information about the cruises and many other events at Bempton Cliffs here.
Farne Islands, England
Managed by the National Trust, Farne Islands are thriving with wildlife all year round. The rocky islands off the Northumberland Coast are home to Atlantic grey seals and many different species of seabirds. This includes around 43,000 pairs of puffins, terns, guillemots and eider ducks.
Inner Farne has a boardwalk around the island making it accessible to visitors to tour as they wish.
The National Trust provides boat tours of the island from Seahouse. Visitors sail around the Farne Islands to get a close look at the thousands of birds and seals that come to breed each year. The gift shop at Seahouses also sells some beautiful souvenirs to commemorate your trip to view the stunning birds and seals.
There are multiple places to stay on the island, many being converted cottages and coastguard lookouts, making for the perfect getaway.
You can book a tour operated by Golden Gate Farne Islands Boat Trips here. It is a 5 stars-reviewed trip and includes commentary by the current Trinity House Lighthouse Attendant, George. The boat tours the Farne Islands and promises viewings of the seabird colonies, including vast amounts of puffins and will also search for a grey seal colony.
Pentland Firth, Scotland
Pentland Firth is a trait in the United Kingdom, off the north coast of Scotland. Ferries from John O’Groats are a fabulous way of getting to view all of the wildlife that lives on the rocky cliffs along the strait.
Seals and porpoises have been spotted in the firth at all times of the year. Large groups of seals can be spotted on the Stroma and Swona islands, particularly in the warmer months when they enjoy sunbathing and in the cooler months during the breeding season.
Although not as common, Killer whales, dolphins and Minke whales have been spotted in the strait. They are typically spotted in the warmer months of the year but can be seen all year round.
A steep cliff edge in the Pentland Firth is a favourite nesting spot for puffins. It is here that Wildlife Cruise from John O’Groats sails. This tour is a fantastic option to tour the deserted rocks and islands in the Pentland Firth and photograph a huge range of marine wildlife.
Reviews commonly praise the tour operator for how close the boat can get to dolphins, porpoises and whales and the huge number of seabirds that you see overhead. I’d highly recommend the tour should you find yourself in the very north of Scotland.
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