Previous years of the Puffarazzi project have generated lots of fantastic data urgently needed to help save one of Britain’s best-loved birds, the Puffin, but there is still much more to find out. Today’s blog has been written by new Puffineer Project Manager, Connie Tremlett who’s joining the project this year as a Conservation Scientist to help do just that.

It is now the time of year when Puffins are making their way back to the UK coasts from their long winters alone at sea. The Puffins will once again be in their colourful finery, after lengthening daylight hours prompts them to lose the dull grey plumage of winter and replace it with the sexiest, brightest orange they can. The vibrant colour signals their ability to find high quality fish, rich in orange carotenoid pigments – hence their suitability as a mate and parent.

Formerly quiet stretches of coastline will be full of the comic strutting and calling of these colourful birds, streaming and wheeling in their thousands in an incredible spectacle, as the birds return to find their partners and burrows (they breed with the same mate each year). Each pair of Puffins (like many seabirds) raises just one chick, in a burrow dug out of the grassy cliffside slopes, putting all their effort into ensuring that their one chick is fat and healthy enough when it finally fledges after around 40 days of care. The chicks fledge alone at night and need to be in good condition to make it safely to the sea.

Sadly however, some Puffin colonies are not doing well – globally Puffins are vulnerable to changing food stocks, invasive predators and severe weather events. In the UK, some colonies have suffered steep declines in numbers. The causes of decline are not always clear though, and there is a lack of data across the UK for scientists to identify the problems and suggest conservation management actions to help remedy the situation and give the Puffins a helping hand.

This is where the Puffarazzi project comes in - an exciting citizen science project that began in 2017, that is providing some of this crucial data. Puffarazzi asks the public to submit photos of Puffins carrying food in their bills, that the birds are bringing back for the chicks tucked away in the burrows. An amazing team of trained volunteers then identifies and counts the fish carried in each photo.

All this data is combined together, creating a fantastic dataset spanning the whole of the UK, to give a unique picture of Puffin diet at multiple colonies. The photos that the public sent in in 2017 allowed Dr Ellie Owen, the project leader, to identify differences between colonies in what adults are managing to feed their chicks to get them ready to successfully fledge – some kinds of fish, such as sandeels, have a higher nutritional content than others, and are key prey species to feed to chicks. Now we’re asking a different question – how has the diet changed over time?

So this year we’re continuing to ask for photos from any year that people have of Puffins carrying food (so long as they know when and where it was taken), as we are particularly keen to build up a long-term dataset that will allow us to get a better idea of how diet is changing over time. Climate change and over-fishing both impact prey availability, and understanding these changes is a crucial part of the fight to ensure that Puffins continue to brighten up our coastlines in the future.

I feel very lucky to be working on the Puffarazzi project this year, and to have an opportunity to help save these delightful birds, along with all of the wonderful volunteers and members of the Puffarazzi!

Check out our Project Puffin website for more information, and to submit your photos!

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