In a disastrous breeding season puffin chicks on a group of Scottish islands are starving to death due to lack of food. Scotland’s coastline supports around 45% of the European Union’s seabird breeding population, but numbers have been dwindling rapidly over the last few years. Researchers at RSPB Scotland have traced this threat to climate change.
Puffins normally feed their chicks on nutritious sand eels and young herring. However, this year the fish population is so depleted that puffins and other birds, such as kittiwakes, are catching only pipefish, which their chicks are unable to swallow. Rotting pipefish carcasses pile up in the burrows while chicks starve to death.
The National Trust for Scotland ranger on the islands, Sarah Money, described the horrible scene: “chicks are just dying of starvation, with hundreds of emaciated bodies lying around outside the burrows.”
Pipefish, a southern species, used to be found in Scottish waters only rarely, but have been moving north in recent years, which experts fear may be a result of rising temperatures due to climate change. Bob Swann, a researcher on the Scottish island of Canna who has been studying seabirds for more than 30 years, commented “We have never seen this before.”