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May 24, 2013

Puffin census on the Farne Islands

Every five years, National Trust rangers carry out a puffin census on the Farne Islands, off the northeast coast of England. The beautiful birds return to their breeding grounds on the islands, which offer excellent sources of food, few ground predators, and good protection for nesting. This count carries particular significance because the last survey in 2008, recording 36,500 pairs, indicated that numbers had fallen by a third from the 2003 census. There is also fear that the extreme weather in the past year could affect the numbers. In March, thousands of birds washed up dead due to severely cold winds, and last summer, many of the birds were flooded out of their homes. Rangers are now faced with the daunting task of counting every burrow-nesting bird, which involves reaching down to each of the underground nests to see if it is occupied. The results will be ready in July. -Leanne Burden Seidel (15 photos total)

Puffins return to their summer breeding grounds on the Farne Islands in Northeast England on May 16, 2013. They are often called "sea parrots" due to their colorful beaks. (Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images)

National Trust rangers Will Scott, David Kinchin Smith, Samantha Morgan and Laura Shearer put their hands into puffin burrows to check for nests during a census on the Farne Islands on May 16, 2013. A census is carried out every five years.(Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images) #

The Farne Islands offer good protection for the birds to nest, providing excellent sources of food, and few ground predators, despite the fear that the extreme winter could impact breeding numbers.(Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images) #

Puffins return to their summer breeding grounds on the Farne Islands on May 16, 2013. According to the National Trust, the last census in 2008 recorded a large drop in the numbers at 36,500 pairs of puffins. In 2003, 55,674 pairs were recorded. (Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images) #

Members of the public visit the Farne Islands where puffins are returning to their summer breeding grounds on May 16, 2013.(Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images)#

National Trust rangers Will Scott and Samantha Morgan laugh as they put their hands into puffin burrows during the census. Puffins nest underground, so this is the only way to tell if it is occupied. (Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images) #

Will Scott, a National Trust ranger holds a puffin during the census. According to National Geographic, the birds weigh on average 17.5 ounces and are 10 inches tall.(Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images) #

Rangers are worried that the extreme conditions this past winter could affect the numbers of puffins. The Farne Islands are a huge seabird colony, with 23 different species. (Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images) #

Members of the public take pictures as they visit the Farne Islands where puffins are returning to their summer breeding grounds on May 16, 2013. (Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images)#

Puffins can carry several fish in their beak to bring back to their nest at one time.(Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images)#

Puffins often live 20 years or more. Thousands of dead birds were washed up on Northeast coast last March due to extreme weather. (Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images) #

National Trust rangers Will Scott, David Kinchin Smith, Samantha Morgan and Laura Shearer put their hands into puffin burrows, which are about 2 to 3 feet long, during the census. (Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images) #

Puffins lay one egg per year with usually the same mate and they return to the same burrow each year. (Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images) #

Members of the public sit in front of the Chapel of St Cuthbert on Farne Islands where puffins are returning to their summer breeding grounds on May 16, 2013.(Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images) #

Puffins are good fliers. They can flap their wings up to 400 times per minute and can reach speeds of 55 miles (88 kilometers) an hour. (Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images) #



 
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