You may have seen photos and videos circulating the internet of people throwing baby puffins, or puffins, off cliff tops. Although you may have been shocked, this is actually common practice in Iceland. Once the puffins are ready to venture out on their own, they should head out to sea and join their flock. However, some of them may get stuck, so communities around Iceland are coming together to help puffins find their way home. It’s called puffy season.
Puffins are seabirds in the family Alcidae (Auk). Although their black and white beak and feathers look like a penguin, they are not closely related. Their close relatives are the guillemot and the little penguin. Puffins, as well as other penguins, can fly, penguins cannot.
There are four species puffins: the Atlantic, the horned, the mole and the rhinoceros puffin. The Atlantic is the most common, found around the North Atlantic, including Iceland. Their name most likely derives from the large amount of down their babies have, often referred to as hairballs.
As puffins mature and prepare to go to sea, they emerge from their burrows at night and look to the moon for guidance – much like baby sea turtles. And unfortunately, puffins often head for what they think is the moon, but are actually nocturnal artificial light sources – or light pollution.
(Credit: David Havel/Shutterstock)
Puffins get lost and stranded in towns around Iceland due to light pollution. But locals in Iceland have started the tradition of puffin season, where they come out at night between 9 p.m. and 3 a.m. with flashlights and cardboard boxes to catch young puffins.
Some puffins are even picked up in the harbor, where the waters can be oily and polluted. In the morning, locals bring the collected puffins to a cliff where they are then laid on the edge or gently tossed into the air. The puffins then head out to sea to rejoin their flock, where they will stay for the next 3 to 4 years.