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ASBO puffins

Last modified: 05 August 2010

Puffin calling, Isle of May National Nature reserve

Image: Andy Hay

Anti-social behaviour orders can help reform the unruly ways of troublesome humans but unfortunately, the same measures can’t be applied to the bird world – much to the dismay of fans following the fortunes of a puffin chick on Shetland.

The behaviour of nesting puffins is hard to monitor as they raise their young out of sight in burrows.

But since Spring, thousands of people have been following the chick at RSPB Scotland’s Sumburgh Head nature reserve via a webcam broadcasting live images of its burrow and even the experts have been surprised by the behaviour of the comical birds.

The chick’s survival at times has been uncertain as not only has the youngster been fed a rather poor diet, but it now seems to have been the victim of brutal attacks – by other puffins!

On at least six occasions, a fully-grown puffin was spotted entering the burrow and pecking, kicking and attacking the vulnerable youngster.

The exact cause of the attacks is unclear, but it is believed that the attacking birds may be non-breeders who, unlike breeding birds, spend a lot of their time above ground, getting to know themselves and wandering into burrows.

The attacks may have been committed by at least one non-breeding puffin that has taken a dislike to the chick.

Helen Moncrieff, RSPB Scotland Shetland warden said: “The camera has been a great success. It has really lifted the lid on the hidden lives of these playful birds, revealing all sorts of behaviour, from scenes of tenderness between parent and chick, to discovering the youngster enjoys snacking on live centipedes. 

“But what we never expected to see was any violence. As this anti-social behaviour has been captured on CCTV, we’ve nicknamed the intruder ‘ASBO puffin.’

“ Thankfully, the chick found the strength to recover from the attacks and seems to be making good progress. It still has some downy feathers and is a little on the small side - possibly due to a poor diet of small and few sandeels - but it could leave the burrow any day now. It’s been a privilege watching the puffins and we hope to do it all again next year.”

The puffincam is part of the wildlife charity’s ‘Date With Nature’ at Sumburgh Head, offering people the chance to get up close and personal experiences with nature.  So far, there have been over 100,000 hits between the RSPB and Promote Shetland websites. 

To view the live puffincam go to www.rspb.org.uk/shetlandsummer or http://www.shetland.org/.

Edited highlights can be found at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3KTBRn5S_qE

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