Seeing Puffins in their natural habit has been one of my bucket list items for as long as i can remember. After seeing Red Squirrels for the first time earlier this year, I was on a roll and decided now would be a good time to go Puffin watching. I researched where I would have the most success viewing Puffins, along with an area of the U.K. I had yet to visit, then packed my case, loaded the car and headed for the Isle of Anglesey in North Wales.
Like many people, I have have always adored these charismatic birds and had longed to see them in the wild. Puffins live at sea for most of the year, therefore timing is critical to have the best chance of viewing them when they return to land for breeding.
When can I view Puffins in the UK?
During my research i discovered that Puffins are best observed during April and August, although June to July is considered the best opportunity to view the adults as this is when they are most active hunting for food to feed their chick.
- Puffins spend most of their lives at sea only and only return to land for breeding
- Puffins usually mate with the same partner for life
- The Puffin bill changes colour throughout the year, taking on its colourful beak for mating
- Puffins dig out a burrow in a grassy bank or rocky crevice and building their nest with feathers and grass.
- Puffins return to the same site year on year for breeding
- A Puffin parent lays a single egg
- Both parents take it in turn to incubate the egg for 36-45 days before the baby “puffling” hatches
- Puffin parents share feeding duties
- The Puffin lifespan is 20 years
- Puffins measure around 25mm in length
- Puffins eat small fish
My first attempt to see puffins was at RSPB South Stack located on the North West side of the Island.
I had a chat with the RSPB representative who said that they currently had 5 nesting pairs and he gave me the details on the location I would most likely sight them. I was a little disheartened as I expected there to be 100s, so with just 10 puffins, i wasn’t sure how lucky i would be to spot one. Puffins spend a lot of time hunting at sea for food as well as sharing nest sitting duties, so i thought the chance of sighting one could be zero to none.
Armed with my binoculars i started to scour the cliff face that I had been advised would be my best chance to see them and as luck would have it, after just 10 mins I spotted 3 pairs of orange feet! By the time I had grabbed the camera we were down to 1 Puffin, however this was my first ever wild Puffin sighting and I was super excited to get a better look at these creatures affectionately known as ‘Sea Parrots’.
I had heard from the locals that there were Boat Trips from Beaumaris to a place called Puffin Island. Unsurprisingly, the uninhabited island had originally been named after the large amount of Puffins it had attracted. Towards the end of the last century and at its peek, up to 2000 breeding pairs had been recorded. Unfortunately due to a rat infestation, the population reduced to just 3 pairs by 1998. The rats were eradicated and I am now happy to say that there are up to 300 pairs of breeding puffins. I felt optimistic that i would be able to get more sightings of the ‘Clowns of the Sea’.
There are a number of boat trips available at Beaumaris and I opted for a trip with Seacoast Safaris who have the option of a smaller boat which carries 12 people and provides an enhanced experience with the ability to freely move around the boat for more viewing / photo opportunities.
As we approached Puffin island by boat, I was in awe at the amount of birds I could see on the island rock face and the constant activity of birds flying on and off the island. The Guillemots were in abundance and as they flew, their wings seem to be moving at such pace with a great sense of purpose. Through the constant flurry of birds leaving the cliffs, the guide pointed out the puffins!! Initially i couldn’t see them, however with my faithful binoculars I finally spotted their distinctive orange feet and orange bills; I spotted 10 Puffins !!
The guide then moved the boat towards a couple of Puffins bobbing on the sea, which enabled us to get closer and allowed me to view them without the use of binoculars. The two Puffins hung out for a long time, occasionally diving under the water for fish.
As well as the hundreds of Guillemots, we also saw Oyster catchers, Shags, Cormorants, Seagulls and more Seals than i have seen in the wild before. Our guide told us that seals don’t like getting wet – I never knew that! And when chilling out on the rocks, will adjust their position to keep out of the water!
After all these years, i have finally seen Puffins in their natural habit and I had fun searching for them.
Puffin Watching ✅
Puffin Watching in the UK
Other locations in the UK where Puffins can be sighted are:
- Hermaness and Sumburgh Head, Shetland, Scotland.
- Fowlsheugh RSPB, Aberdeenshire, Scotland.
- Isle of May and Craigleith Island, Fife, Scotland.
- Farne Islands, Northumberland, England.
- Bempton Cliffs RSPB, Yorkshire, England.
- South Stack Cliffs RSPB, Anglesey, Wales.
- Skomer Island, Pembrokeshire, Wales
- Westray and Papa Westray, Orkney, Scotland
- Rathlin Island, County Antrim, Northern Ireland