Puffin – 1994

Fratercula arctica – PAL – Breeding summer visitor

Breeding confirmed7
Breeding probable
Breeding possible1
No of tetrads occupied8 (of 478)
Percentage of tetrads1.7%

The Puffin was formerly much more numerous than it is today. There was an extremely large colony of Puffins on Grassholm in the 1890s, estimates of its size varying from 500,000 to 700,000 pairs. However, when reviewing these estimates Williams (1978) used a density of two pairs per square yard to calculate that the population was probably about 200,000 pairs. This huge number nested in burrows in the ‘haystack’ of red fescue which covered most of the island to a depth of two feet. Eventually this became so honeycombed with burrows that it collapsed and Puffins largely forsook Grassholm, probably by 1920, when local opinion was that many had moved to breed on Skokholm.

They bred all over the island of Skomer according to Mathew (1894) who stated “that there is scarcely a yard of ground free of them”, and around the turn of the century were also breeding on Caldey, St Margaret’s and the Bishops. Lloyd found a small colony of about 20 pairs breeding on Ramsey in 1927, where they bred commonly before the island was invaded by brown rats (Howells 1968). He also noted small numbers in the cliffs between Linney Head and St Govan’s Head during the 1920s and 1930s.

Lockley et al. (1949) estimated that about 100,000 pairs were breeding on Skokholm and Skomer combined, but by the time of Operation Seafarer (1969) the total Pembrokeshire population was down to about 9,000 pairs and the Seabird Register survey of 1985-1987 found about 10,600 pairs (see map), so there appears to have been a recent period of stability.

Puffins arrive at the breeding area in about the middle of March, and depart the land by about the third week in August, though some are seen in inshore waters well into October. They spend the winter out to sea. Ringing recoveries indicate that the winter range extends from Greenland to Gran Canaria and across the Atlantic as far as Newfoundland.  they are rarely seen in Pembrokeshire in the winter; those birds that do occur in winter are usually sick or exhausted.

Donovan J.W. & Rees G.H, 1994, Birds of Pembrokeshire

LLOYD, B. 1925—1939. Diaries. National Library of Wales.

WILLIAMS, G. 1978. Notes on the birds of Grassholm. Nature in Wales 16: 2-15.

More about the Puffin in Pembrokeshire