With your help we’re learning more about puffins

In summer 2017 our scientists asked for your assistance. By sending us lots of photos of puffins carrying fish, you’ve helped us discover more about what they’re eating and how we can help them.

What are we finding out?

You really amazed us with the number and quality of pictures you sent in – more than 600 people sent over 1400 photos of puffins from almost 40 colonies. Thanks to everyone who sent in a photo – we couldn’t have done it without you.

The Puffineers have spent the last few months carefully analysing the pictures and have now identified the species of 12,182 fish and measured their sizes. This gives us the first national snapshot of what puffins are feeding to their chicks. All photographers will get an email from Project Puffin in December, so please look out for that.

Because we got lots of pictures from some sites, it means we can look at how the food brought to chicks changed as the summer progressed.

The RSPB’s scientists are now looking at how diet differs between colonies and looking for clues as to why some colonies are doing well and others are declining. Early hints suggest that puffins living in areas where they are currently struggling were finding much smaller fish than most other colonies.

What are puffins eating?

Unsurprisingly, there were lots of sandeels, but we also found rockling (tiny members of the cod family), other young fish from the cod family, herring/sprat and even squid.

The proportion of sandeels in the photographs also varied depending on location. Puffins in North West Scotland having about half their diet made up of sand eels, while colonies in the North Sea, off Southern Scotland and Northern England, and in the Celtic Sea, off Wales, getting almost two thirds of their diet from sand eels.

Take a look at the blog post for more info.

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    What is Project Puffin?

    Project Puffin (UK) combines the latest technology with citizen science to tackle three of the biggest challenges hampering conservation efforts for these charismatic birds; discovering more about what puffins feed their chicks, where they go to find food and how their numbers are changing.

    • Tracking: in June 2017 we used GPS tags to carefully track puffins at two sites in Scotland (in the Shiants and Shetland) to find out where the birds go to feed
    • Census: to understand how puffin numbers are changing, during the 2017 breeding season we undertook puffin counts at key colonies in Shetland, traditionally a stronghold for puffins in the UK
    • Puffarazzi: between June and August 2017 we asked visitors to puffin colonies across the UK and Ireland to become 'puffarazzi' and take and submit photos of puffins with food in their bills. This way, we hope to learn more about how the diet of puffins varies across the places they breed in the UK. We hope this will give us answers as to exactly why some puffin colonies seem able to find food for chicks while others struggle.


    Puffins are one our most recognisable and much-loved seabirds with their colourful bills and eye markings. However, in recent years their numbers across the UK and Europe have plummeted leading to the species being declared vulnerable to global extinction - with further declines of between 50-79 percent estimated by 2065. Warming seas, caused by climate change, affecting puffins’ food sources are thought to be one of the main threats to their numbers.

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    Keep up to date with Project Puffin - use #ProjectPuffinUK

    Map showing where puffins breed in the UK and Ireland

    We wanted to collect images of the fish puffins were carrying from as many places in the UK and Ireland as possible. The map below shows where puffins were found the last time that a national survey was done. Although this was more than 10 years ago, it is still a great tool if you want to know where to see puffins. We are actively supporting efforts to complete a new national seabird census.

    • Easy access - great for puffarazzi with facilities and staff on hand to help at our RSPB reserves
    • Access possible for puffarazzi but check local access arrangements
    • Access more difficult, these sites are remote or would require a large zoom lens camera to photograph and therefore present a more adventurous challenge

    The team behind Project Puffin

    Meet the puffineers

    Say hello to the intrepid Project Puffin team. More...

    Meet the puffineers

    More on puffins

    Take a look at our puffin bird guide page.


    An unmistakable bird with its black back and white underparts, and distinctive black head with large pale cheeks and a tall, flattened, brightly-coloured bill. Its comical appearance is heightened by ... More...



    Project Puffin is supported by a grant from the Heritage Lottery Fund. Thanks to National Lottery players, we aim to help conserve puffins by finding out what they feed their chicks, where they go to find food and how their numbers are changing.

    Your puffins

    Tracking puffins

    This summer we've been GPS tracking puffins at two sites in Scotland (in The Shiants and North Shetland) to find out where the birds go to feed, see what we found out in this story map.

    Open the story map full screen here