Puffins and seabirds in No. Europe – 07/28/2005

  • October 30, 2013 at 3:44 pm #862

    Global Warming Blamed
    For Decline Of Puffins
    By Auslan Cramb
    Scottish Correspondent
    The Telegraph – UK

    The biggest colony of puffins in Britain has suffered a “disastrous”
    breeding season. the worst breeding year on record.

    Thousands of puffin chicks have failed to hatch or have starved to
    death in the St Kilda archipelago, home to 136,000 pairs, and many of
    the survivors are reported to be very poor condition.

    Conservationists say the current breeding year is the worst on record
    in one of the most important seabird breeding areas in north-west
    region of Europe.

    The conservationists believe the problems that have caused widespread
    breeding failures among seabirds on the east coast of Britain in
    recent years have now moved to affect the Atlantic seaboard.

    The collapse is blamed on global warming and the disappearance from
    UK waters of the sand eel, the staple diet of many seabirds and a
    vital element in the marine food chain.

    St Kildans, before the island became uninhabited in 1930, saw the
    puffin as an important part of their diet. In 1876, the islanders
    were said to have killed 89,600 of the birds for food and feathers.

    Some scientists believe a two-degree increase in ocean temperatures
    in the last 20 years has forced sand eels, and the plankton they feed
    on, to move to cooler waters.

    The two marine wardens on St Kilda, which was the first part of
    Scotland to be declared a World heritage site, said that they were
    shocked by the large number of dead chicks they found during a visit
    at the weekend.

    During a count on Dun, a small island in the St Kilda archipelago, 41
    miles west of the Outer Hebrides, they found significant numbers of
    dead chicks in nesting sites or burrows where they had marked 100
    eggs in May.

    One of the wardens, Sarah Money, said: “The puffin is usually one of
    the more robust seabirds, finding alternative sources of food when
    other species struggle.

    “This is a really worrying sign that something is badly wrong with
    the health of our seas.

    “As soon as we entered the colony we could tell that something was
    wrong. We saw dead downy chicks scattered on the ground in front of
    us. Only 26 per cent of the burrows had live chicks in them and many
    of these were severely underweight.

    “This is the worst year ever in terms of success over the time they
    have been studied. Previous studies have shown that the survival
    rates generally come in at around 71 per cent on St Kilda, with only
    one poor year over the study period when productivity was down to 44
    per cent.”

    Ms Money added that the puffins had been bringing back pipefish to
    feed their young, because of a lack of sand eels, but the problem
    with this was that pipefish had “almost no nutritional value

    She said: “As pipefish have an average length of 25 centimetres,
    getting this down a chick is no mean feat.

    “This is a really poor sign. It looks like the puffins have been
    unable to find enough decent food to maintain their chicks, which are
    simply starving.”

    Susan Bain, of the Natural Trust for Scotland, which owns St Kilda,
    said only one young puffin turned up on the main island of Hirta last
    summer, compared to hundreds in the 1980s.

    St Kilda, which was bequeathed to the trust by the 5th Marquess of
    Bute in 1957, is also home to the world’s largest colony of gannets,
    and the biggest colony of fulmars in Britain.

    Martin Scott, of the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds,
    said: “This is a very worrying trend and appears to be moving over to
    the west coast.

    “It looks like a repetition of what has happened in the North Sea and
    in Orkney and Shetland.”

    Meanwhile, a large number of seabird chicks are said to have died in
    the Western Isles in recent weeks because of starvation, or because
    they were too weak to survive an unseasonal storm.

    © Copyright of Telegraph Group Limited 2005.

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