Puffin gathering nesting material photographed on Skomer Island during a NaturesLens Puffins Photography Holiday

Puffins of Skomer Island

Article written by David Miles illustrated with images contributed by Various.

Skomer Island is famous for the puffins that reside there over the summer. No matter how much time is spent, something new always beckons & calls us back time & again. Skomer is a magical place to visit, a haven for wildlife, but it is most well known for its puffins. Situated just off the coast of Pembrokeshire this island, with its sister island Skokholm, is surrounded by some of the richest waters for wildlife off the British Isles. The seas are full of fantastic wildlife, from delightfully coloured sea slugs to magnificent cetaceans. The island itself attracts a huge array of wildlife which shelters in its bays & inlets.

Puffin gathering nesting material photographed on Skomer Island during a NaturesLens Puffins Photography Holiday
The Puffin is the best known of the British auks, its colourful & slightly clown-like appearance making it immediately recognisable.

The Puffin's short wings are used for ‘flying' underwater in search of fish; large wings would be a disadvantage but small wings make flying in air rather more difficult & the birds must beat their  wings rapidly to stay aloft. The Puffin's beak is only distinctively coloured in summer; the large red & grey scutes or horny plates together with the fleshy yellow rosette in the corner of the mouth are grown late winter for use in display. After the breeding season they are moulted, the winter bill is relatively small & constricted at the base, & blackish in colour as is the face.

Formerly much more common in southern Britain, there are now few Puffin colonies south of the Scottish border & those of Skokholm and Skomer are two of the most important. Here the colonies were once much larger, but the reduced populations of today seem to be more or less holding their own. An accurate census is difficult, but the best estimates indicate that there may be about 2,000 breeding pairs on Skokholm & 6,000 on Skomer. On Skomer, the largest concentrations are on the Isthmus between North & South Haven & at The Wick, but they occur in small numbers along much of the island's cliff top.

They return to their nesting sites in April, gradually building up in numbers as the egg laying season approaches. They nest underground in burrows, not only battling with each other for these, but also with Manx Shearwaters since both species use the same sort of burrows for nesting. Puffins prefer nest sites close to the cliff.

Puffins can be seen on Skomer from April until August, though in early April they may be on the island in large numbers on one day with none the next, until they settle mid-month. Mid-June to mid-July is the time to see really big numbers, as parents are busy toing & froing with food for their chicks.

Numbers are also swelled then by birds too young to breed but are prospecting for the future. By the first week in August only a handful remain, and these are soon to depart, leaving the Puffin colonies deserted again until the following spring.

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