Chasing Puffins

There’s a marked difference in the size of fish which Puffins bring to their burrows. I’m sure that they were bringing smaller fish to their pufflings earlier on in the season and much bigger fish later on in the season. Puffins are very small birds, so it’s important not to over-inflate the idea of them bringing in large fish. All their prey fish are small, it’s just some are less tiny than others.

Here’s one in a desperate rush to get the fish back safely to their single puffling waiting in the burrow:

Puffin with fish - The Hall of Einar - photograph (c) David Bailey (not the)

At the end of the breeding season Puffins accumulate in large floats or rafts on the sea. They preen, they bathe and they appear to socialise. There can be hundreds of them on the sea and very few on land:

Puffin raft - The Hall of Einar - photograph (c) David Bailey (not the)

Some, the late breeders, are still feeding their puffling and I’m enjoying watching them provisioning their nests when I see an Arctic Skua appear. Arctic Skuas are one of my favourite birds. They live a life of unmitigated piracy; their diet consists almost entirely of fish stolen from other species of birds. As I watch it twists in the air and attacks a Puffin flying in to its nest:

Puffin chased by Arctic Skua - The Hall of Einar - photograph (c) David Bailey (not the)

The chase is a thrill. This Puffin had to ditch in the sea to avoid its aggressive pursuer and lost its fish in the process. Not all hunts are successful, however. The one below managed to evade its pursuer and reach its nest with its long dangling fish still clamped in its bill’s vice-like grip. It’s hard to watch the whole drama without feeling a slew of emotions. Whose side would you take? Whose chick gets to eat? Will the Puffin make it through? Would you cheer out-loud if it did?

Puffin chased by Arctic Skua - The Hall of Einar - photograph (c) David Bailey (not the)

I’m a tense and emotional wreck after an hour of aerial battles. It’s always a privilege to watch nature in the raw and a battle for survival. Only the fastest, most aware Puffins make it through with their fish. Arctic Skuas are part of what has made Puffins fly so fast and have such great awareness. Arctic Skuas are what have made Puffins what they are and Puffins are what have made Arctc Skuas what they are. Their age-old battles have led to this point in their evolutionary arms race and I’m here at this very moment to witness it.

It’s magnificent.

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