Thursday, June 5, 2008

Puffins in Iceland

Iceland is home to one of the world's largest colonies of puffins. Over half of the world population of the Atlantic Puffin breeds in Iceland. It is estimated that around 3 million pairs breed in Iceland each year – that´s 6 million puffins but only 70% of the total are breeding birds. So the total population of puffins in Iceland is between 8 and 10 million birds.
Puffins are both beautiful and fun to look at. They exhibit amusing antics and maneuvers both in air and on land. Perhaps it is this combination of strange colorful look and behavior that make them so loveable.
There are a number of places in Iceland where you can visit the Atlantic Puffin. Látrabjarg is one of three largest bird cliffs in Iceland. Located in the west of Iceland it is also as far west in Europe you can get. Other Puffin areas are The Westmann Islands , Breiðafjörður and Lundey ( Puffin Island) just outside Reykjavik. Lundey is not nearly as big a puffin colony as the others but around 30.000 puffins inhabit this small island which is just 3 minutes sailing from Reykjavik.
The other two large bird cliffs are Hornbjarg and in the Natural Reserve Park of Hornstrandir which is in the north west of Iceland. In Hornstrandir it´s ideal to combine hiking and birdwatching.
In the Westmann Islands, which holds about half of all Icelandic puffins, the puffins are both harvested and saved. Puffins have been a vital source of food through the centuries for Icelanders in the islands. However, they are sustainbly harvested because Icelanders know they need them again next year. Icelander´s also save the puffins when in August millions of newborn puffins leave their burrows in the cliffs of Heimaey—the main island in the Westmann Islands. The puffins leave at night, using the moon to navigate. But the streetlights of Heimaey seem to throw off some of the young birds' flight plans. When that happens, it's time for the children of Heimaey to launch the Puffin Patrol—basically a search and rescue operation for the befuddled birds, which, instead of flying out to sea, fly into town where they crash-land and end up on the streets. The children of Heimaey have been saving young pufflings for generations. In fact, at the end of the summer, releasing them by the hundreds to the safety of the sea has become a local tradition. The harvesting season of puffins in the Westamann Islands is from July 1. to August 15 and soon after that the Puffin Patrol starts rescuing the baby puffins on there way to sea. A baby puffin is called “Pysja” in Icelandic.Around the year 1900 the puffin was almost made extinct in the Westmann Islands because of harvesting. The puffin was hunted for it´s down which was exported to Denmark. The hunting was banned for 30 years and when it was harvested again Icelanders started using a hunting method from the Faroe Islands, where the puffins are caught in a net on a long pole.

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