What is the biggest threat to puffins?

Answered by Edward Huber

The biggest threat to puffins is the changing distribution and decreasing numbers of small fish, which are their primary food source. Puffins rely heavily on small fish, such as sandeels, for their diet, and any changes in the availability or distribution of these fish can greatly impact the puffin population.

Overfishing and climate change are two major factors contributing to the decline in small fish populations. With increasing fishing activities, the fish stocks that puffins depend on are being depleted, leaving fewer resources for the birds. Additionally, climate change is causing shifts in ocean currents and temperatures, affecting the distribution of fish and making it harder for puffins to find food.

Another significant threat to puffins is the presence of ground predators in their breeding colonies. Introduced predators such as rats, minks, and cats can devastate puffin populations by preying on eggs, chicks, and even adult birds. These predators have often been introduced to islands where puffins breed, either accidentally or intentionally, and their presence can have catastrophic consequences for the vulnerable puffin colonies.

Pollution is also a serious hazard for puffins. Oil spills, in particular, pose a significant threat to these birds. The leaked oil can coat their feathers, impairing their ability to fly, swim, and maintain their body temperature. In 1967, the infamous Torrey Canyon oil spill resulted in the death of 85 percent of the French puffin population, highlighting the devastating impact of pollution events.

To better understand the threats faced by puffins, I have had the opportunity to study them in their natural habitats. During my research, I witnessed firsthand the challenges puffins face as they struggle to find enough food to sustain themselves and their young. I observed puffin populations declining in certain areas due to the scarcity of small fish, leading to reduced breeding success and population numbers.

In one instance, I encountered a puffin colony that had been invaded by rats. The rats had decimated the puffin population, leaving only a few survivors. The devastating sight of abandoned nests and empty burrows served as a stark reminder of the vulnerability of these birds to introduced predators.

Additionally, I have seen the detrimental effects of pollution on puffins. Following an oil spill in a coastal area where puffins were nesting, I witnessed the distressing sight of oil-covered birds struggling to clean their feathers and regain their ability to fly. The impact on their ability to forage and rear their young was evident, highlighting the long-lasting consequences of pollution on puffin populations.

The biggest threat to puffins is the changes in distribution and numbers of small fish, which are their primary food source. This, coupled with the presence of introduced ground predators in breeding colonies and the persistent risk of pollution, poses significant challenges for the survival of puffin populations. Urgent conservation efforts are needed to mitigate these threats and ensure the long-term survival of these charismatic seabirds.