Pioneering Puffins on Handa Island

Posted by on Jul 12, 2009 in Islands, Nature | One Comment

Back in June we took a trip to the Handa Island nature reserve. It is located off the northwest coast, near to the village of Scourie. Access is granted by a small motorboat capable of carrying ten or so passengers. It was the prospect of viewing puffins that drew us there. I am very glad that puffins exist. Viewing them cheers me. I view with suspicion anyone not uplifted by their presence.

There puffins do not nest on the island itself, but on top of the Great Stack of Handa (above). The stack is very close to the island so the birds are still easy to observe. The main island is was previously infested with rats who would eat the eggs and young, so the puffins wisely retreated to the sanctuary of the stack. The pamphlet provided by the warden reported that although the rats were exterminated in 1997, the puffins have yet to recolonise the main island .

We did see one pair of pioneering puffins on the main island, nesting in a burrow among the thrift flowers (above). The twelve year gap shows that being born after the extermination of the rats was not in itself sufficient to encourage the puffins to recolonise the main island. Perhaps the puffins stayed put until the last of their number who could remember the rats had passed away, and the association between nesting on the main island and the threat of predation by rats began to fade from the folk memory of the puffins.

1 Comment

  1. Anonymous
    September 1, 2011

    I found your post trying to find out how the puffins have been doing this year – just spotted it was from 2009. I saw a couple of puffins on the main island in 2004. I’m not sure if they had burrows, but I guess there would be no reason for them to be there if they didn’t as it was late in the season.


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