Here is a Birthday card featuring a puffin standing on a rocky outcrop.
It has its mouth full of sand eels, and being a polite bird it is saying ‘It’s somewhat difficult to enunciate with my mouth full of sand eels, but I just wanted to say Happy Birthday’.
With that said, let’s talk about puffins and sand eels.
The record for the greatest number of sand eels observed in the beak of a puffin is 63 or thereabouts.
Puffins fly out to sea, catch the sand eels and then fly back to land to the burrows where their chicks are waiting.
Puffins have short, stubby wings which they can flap rapidly when they fly. It’s almost unbelievable that they can beat their wings up to 400 times a minute.
That takes a lot of energy but it also means that puffins can manoeuvre well, even in the winds around the Scottish islands.
They also swim well, and can dive 50 or 60 metres (200 feet) in search of sand eels.
Still, with their little bodies, the clowns of the sea do look cute and that has earned them a special place in the hearts of many people.
Puffins are built for the sea and once the pufflings (baby puffins) have hatched and fledged, they spend most of their lives on the sea – flying or bobbing on the waves.
Threats to sand eels
With rising sea temperatures, the sand eels are moving north, so the puffins have to fly further to catch them. They fly from The Isle Of May in this case – because that is where I photographed this puffin.
The Isle of May is in the firth of Forth, north of Edinburgh, and Tamara and I went out to the island in an inflatable dingy. We landed on the island and ran the gauntlet of breeding terns before heading off to the rocky headlands on the north of the island.
There we saw puffins standing, recovering, getting ready for the next trip to the feeding grounds out at sea.
With rising sea temperatures and longer journeys out to sea and back over and over again, the puffins are less able to rear their young successfully,
And there is another threat, and that is fishing vessels harvesting huge catches of sand eels, half a million tons or more, to be ground up into fish meal for salmon farms.
Isn’t that crazy – catching fish to feed to captive, farmed fish?
What are sand eels
Sand eels are not eels at all. They are fish – several different species of fish, all with long, narrow bodies and almost no body or tail fins.
They swim in huge shoals near the sea bed in coastal waters, and they feed on plankton. In turn, puffins (and porpoises, and terns, and mackerel) feed on them.
If a sand eels senses danger it burrows itself tail first into the sandy sea bed, with just its head peeking out.
That’s the story behind the card and if you want to grab the card for yourself, just click the image and it will take right to the product page.