Puffin population under pressure

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Norway’s puffin population has declined by two-thirds over the past 30 years and researchers are recording another major reduction this season. They say the characteristic birds with the colorful beaks haven’t managed to hatch chicks for the fourth year in a row.

Puffins like these photographed on the island of Hornøya are struggling to reproduce along the Norwegian coast. PHOTO: Wikipedia Commons

“We’re looking at a serious decline in the stocks of puffins,” senior researcher Tycho Anker-Nilssen of the Norwegian Institute for Nature Research (NINA) told Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK) on Thursday.

Anker-Nilssen has been following the puffin colony on the northern Norwegian island of Røst since 1981. He said there’s been a steady reduction in bird counts every year.

Since records started being compiled in 1979, the numbers have declined from around 1.5 million pairs of puffin (called lundefugl in Norwegian) to 410,000 on Røst this summer.

All told, there are around 1.7 million puffin pairs along the entire coast, with Røst having the largest concentration. Norway’s puffin population makes up about 30 percent of the world’s population of puffins.

“What’s happening on Røst is dramatic, because it has the country’s biggest puffin stocks,” Anker-Nilssen said. “A fourth of Norway’s chicks are hatched on Røst, so when it goes poorly there, it means a lot for the entire population.”

The puffins live off small fish in the seas, and he said they’ve had poor food supplies in recent years. “It’s an ecosystem problem,” Anker-Nilssen said. “They’re struggling with access to enough food all around the Norwegian Sea and as far away as Iceland and the Færoe Islands.”

The puffins seem to be faring better in eastern Finnmark, in the Norwegian far north, where there has been better food supplies and the population has seen an upswing.

Elsewhere in Norway, and especially on Røst, the decline is so large that the puffin population nationwide is expected to register an overall reduction, and by another 100,000 pair on Røst alone.

Views and News from Norway/Nina Berglund
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