Ecodiversity visits Cliffs of Moher

What are puffins?

Puffins – or more specifically the Atlantic Puffin – are a breed of seabirds found in Ireland, Scotland, and other regions of Northern Europe. They have a wingspan of roughly 47cm-63cm and can reach about 20cm in height. Both females and males are nearly identical in colouring, which in the summer is black on the back with a white underside, and an orange beak and orange webbed feet. However, the large, orange bill that puffins are known for is actually only for show during mating season and this outer part of the beak is shed for the winter season.

Once ready to begin breeding, male and female puffins form long-term pairs – sometimes breeding for life – and both parents help in the raising of offspring. Each year, females lay a single egg, which the parents keep warm in their brood patches (more or less a featherless patch of skin on certain types of birds during the breeding season where eggs can be kept warm).

A Puffling

When is the best time to see puffins?

Atlantic Puffins spend a good bit of their lives living on the open ocean, where they live off of local fish and zooplankton (the type of fish will depend upon their location). Once they attain breeding age (roughly five years old though it can vary), the puffins come ashore in remote coastal regions in order to breed and fledge their chicks, or pufflings.

The puffin breeding season usually starts in late March or early April, finishing in July or August, though of course, they follow their own schedule which means that predicting their movements down to an exact week or even month isn’t always possible. At this time, the puffins leave Ireland and the rest of Northern Europe to winter in warmer waters down south.

Where can I see puffins in Ireland?

While Atlantic Puffins are found across Northern Europe from Iceland to Ireland, the UK and Scandinavia (and occasionally a tad further south), Ireland is certainly one of the easiest places to spot these adorably iconic birds.

If you want to see puffins, you have to head to the Irish coasts – in particular, Ireland’s rugged west coast. Islands are the best places to see puffins – and the more remote the island, the better. During the breeding season, puffins prefer cliffs, craggy headlands and rocky sea stacks well away from predators and humans.

See below for a few islands where you might have a chance at spotting puffins.

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