Iceland Mag

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Iceland Mag

Animals

The largest puffin colony in Iceland and the world seems to be continuing its recovery

By Staff

  • The future is looking brighter This year's puffin chicks seem to be heavier than in the last few years, which is an indication of better food supply in the ocean. Photo/Vilhelm Gunnarsson

The puffin colony of the Vestmannaeyjar archipelago, off Iceland’s south coast, seems to be continuing its recovery, which started last year.

Iceland is the home to more than half of the world’s puffin population. These small, beautiful penguin-like birds spend autumn and winter out on the open sea, but fly to shore in late April to breed and then return again to the open sea late summer or early in the autumn.

Every year a large number of young puffin chicks wander into Vestmannaeyjar (Westman Islands) town where they are rescued by locals, who collect the birds and release them back to the ocean. The number of rescued chicks (called “pysja” in Icelandic) is closely monitored as it provides a strong indication of how many birds make it to adulthood.

Read more: A puffin chick is called a pysja: the life and adventurers of the adolescent puffin

The town (population around 4,200) is located on Heimaey island, the largest and the only inhabited of the archipelago, which lies off Iceland’s south coast. The archipelago is the home the largest puffin colony in Iceland and is also one of the most important puffin colonies in the world. Worryingly its puffin population has been in decline for the past years.

However, last year more puffin chicks were recorded in the island than any time since 2003 when systematic counts were first performed. The total number reached 3,831 when the final chick was brought in late October, which was abnormally late as the birds usually leave much earlier in the autumn.

When we contacted The Fish and Natural History Museum of Vestmannaeyjar, today (14 September) they told us that the count stands at 2,355 chicks. While they do not expect the number to reach as high as in 2015, this is considerably more chicks than were brought in for the count in previous years. Furthermore the chicks seem to be heavier in general, which is an indication of better food supply in the ocean than in recent years. A very welcome news indeed.

Read more: The Westman Islands are the Pompeii of the North

The “Fish and Natural History Museum of Vestmannaeyjar” was opened in 1964. It is the oldest museum of its kind in the country and definitively worth the visit if you are heading to the island. This summer it’s most popular “member of staff” was Tóti the puffin, which you can see in the video below. 

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