Calling all puffin fans: Puffarazzi wanted!

Visitors to puffin colonies across the UK and Ireland are being urged to become ‘Puffarazzi’ for the summer and take photographs of the birds carrying fish in their bills. 

1st June 2017
Puffins in the UK

Together with the help of citizen scientists and the latest technology, the RSPB wants to use puffin photographs taken by visitors to help them learn more about the dangers surrounding the conservation of puffins as well as finding out what puffins feed their chicks

Although puffins are one of Britain's best loved seabirds, in recent years their numbers have declined across the UK and Europe. These beautiful birds with their colourful bills and eye markings have been declared vulnerable to global extinction. It is predicted by 2065 their decline will increase between 50-79%. It is believed the main contributor to their decline is climate change, causing sea temperatures to rise, affecting puffins' food sources. 

Dr Ellie Owen, RSPB Conservation Scientist and Puffarazzo-in-Chief, said: “Puffins are wonderful birds and one of the UK species we are most worried about. We are still uncertain why puffins are in decline but there is evidence that lack of food to raise chicks could be a key issue as we witness worryingly high breeding failures at some key colonies over recent years".

“We need to find out more about what puffins feed to their chicks and we need people’s help for this project. We know that there is great affection for these birds and this project will give everyone the chance to be part of the work being done to save them".

“Anyone can take part in the research following some easy steps. Of course we need to make sure the science is robust and that puffins aren’t disturbed, so there are few things people need to consider if they want to be Puffarazzi and help us in this project”.

Four Easy Steps to photograph puffins:

1. Visit a Puffin Colony in June and July

Be very careful when you visit a puffin colony. Consider that the weather can unpredictable and walking near cliffs can be dangerous. We understand that you will be focused on taking some great pictures but your safety comes first.  To find out what puffins are feeding their chicks, photographic evidence from puffin colonies across the UK needs to be provided. Puffins have been recorded to feed their chicks between early/mid June and mid/late July making these two months the prime opportunity to capture pictures of puffins carrying fish. However, outside this time frame, it is very rare puffins will be carrying fish. 

2. Find a Mama or Papa Puffin

Although the seabirds are beautiful, it is important for this study that only photos of fish in the puffins' bill are taken. Try and look at birds who are breeding and have chicks to feed. It is important that you do not go near to the puffin burrows as you could startle them. 

Make sure you do not disturb the birds – puffins can be very sensitive to disturbance so please follow our top tips for puffin friendly photography:

- Avoid spending too long taking your photo. Only spend a couple of minutes photographing a puffin carrying fish – it is waiting to get into its burrow to give those fish to its pufflings, so take the photo and then move away.

- Avoid disturbing the birds by keeping your movements and noise to a minimum and never walk near or over puffin burrows as they could collapse and squash pufflings inside.

- Avoid approaching a puffin.  Stay at least 5 metres away and take your photo from there, unless the puffin chooses to come closer to you! At some colonies puffins are very close to visitors and used to them and photos will be easy to capture, at others puffins may be more wary. Keep a respectful distance from the bird and move off as soon as you have got your picture.

3. Prepare your camera and snap!

The easiest way to get a photo is to spot puffins that have landed and are holding fish. We know it can be very hard to get a flying bird in focus, but if you have a camera with a fast tracking mode you may also be able to take photos of puffins flying with fish. Whilst you perfect your photography skills, you might snap an image that could provide us with a lot of information!

Photos should be clear and show the detail of the fish in the puffins' beak. Blurry photos or those that you cannot make out certain details on the fish such as colour, any fins, or the mouth shape, they will not be helpful for us in identifying what type of fish they eat. 

Photographs preferably should be front-on so we can see both the head and tail ends of the fish and be able to measure fish sizes. 

4. Upload your photos

All aspiring Puffarazzi should submit their pictures at www.rspb.org.uk/projectpuffin. The website will be live at the end of May 2017. 

When uploading your pictures please provide where the photos were taken, the date and exact time. Providing this information will be important for research as we will be able to map out the findings on the different seabird colonies in the UK. This will help us to find out what puffins are eating, and why some puffin colonies are declining whilst others are doing better. 

Photos uploaded will have to be those taken from this year - 2017

Only send 1 picture of each bird you photograph! Choose the one which you think shows the fish most clearly (and it does not matter how much fish your puffin has) and keep the others for your collection. If we receive multiple photos of 1 bird it will bias our data.

When you submit a photo we will ask you if you can provide us with your email so that we are able to contact you to let you know what fish your puffin was feeding to its chicks. You will also be able to sign up for updates on the puffin research, as the citizen science element is part of a larger project to track and count puffins called ‘Project Puffin’. We will send you links to blogs and hot-off-the-press puffin tracking maps.

On twitter look out for #projectpuffinUK

To find out more information, visit www.rspb.org.uk.

Image: Getty

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