Photographer Kevin Morgans has spent many years on isolated cliffs shooting these colorful and captivating birds while often getting wet, windy, and sunburned.
For his photography with puffins, Kevin Morgans earned the portfolio prize at the 2021 Bird Photographer of the Year Awards.
With a preface by Chris Packham, Sandstone Press will release Puffins: Life on the Atlantic Edge on October 6.
With colonies in areas like Shetland, Orkney, the Isle of May, Fair Isle, and the Treshnish Isles, Scotland is home to around 80% of the puffin population of the British Isles. The Hermaness National Nature Reserve is where this picture was taken.
The Atlantic puffin is one of 25 species of seabirds that make up the family of auks (Alcidae), which also includes guillemots, razorbills, and tiny auks.
Only during the mating season can you see the puffin’s unique orange foot and beak. Similar to how deer lose their antlers at the conclusion of the rut, puffins spend the most of the year without their vibrant attire.
Puffins are naturally inquisitive and are drawn to any loose stuff near to the burrow. They can’t help but investigate camera gear, stones, flowers, and twigs. On the lush soil of Skomer, where puffins often fill their burrows with wildflowers, from bluebells in the early spring to red campion and thrift later in the season, this photograph of an adult puffin carrying a sizable mouthful of nesting material was shot.
Puffins typically use their feet to scratch those hard-to-reach itches, but a group of specialists recently saw two puffins, who lived in different parts of the world but were just a few thousand miles away, using sticks as a tool to access those challenging areas. It was the first time that wild seabirds had been seen utilizing tools, which raises the possibility that they have more cognitive capacity than previously believed.
A great skua is on patrol while puffins dive in large groups from the cliffs. As the skua travels down the shore, a first group will throw itself off the edge, and the others will follow in a cascade like a Mexican wave.
When returning to the colony, puffins may sometimes extend their wings high above their backs while partially bending their legs and leaning forward. Their wingspan ranges from 47 cm to 63 cm (18.5 in. to 25 in.). When this position is maintained for a few seconds, puffins that have returned without fish may interpret it as an act of appeasement. Additionally, young birds that want to be a part of the “club” utilize it.
After spending months in the Atlantic, they congregate in tiny groups, or “rafts,” close to their mating sites. The more seasoned birds, who are presumably older than four, are the first to return and rush for their comfortable burrow. The non-breeding juveniles arrive next, followed by the subadults, and eventually, a month or two later, on their first visit back to the colony, when they will join a fully integrated, mixed-age group.
Within their burrows, pufflings will be quite busy in the 38 to 44 days leading up to fledging. They will exhibit their natural curiosity by exploring tunnels, playing with stray nesting materials, and tugging at roots. Whether they are unwanted predators or another puffin that has accidently drifted in, they will fight any intruders without hesitation. According to research, parents cannot tell which chick is their own by appearance or scent, so if one replaces another, they would feed the new chick as if it were their own. However, they won’t spare a researcher’s finger.
As it prepares to leave the burrow, this puffin leaves its spouse, who is barely visible over its right shoulder, to tend to the egg.
Like many seabirds and other avian species, puffins are very sociable and often congregate in huge numbers. These gatherings are referred to as colonies, puffinries, circuses, gatherings, and, perhaps most oddly, improbabilities.
The biology department at the University of Oxford has followed the movements of puffins from four separate colonies in Iceland, Norway, and Wales, keeping note of their fishing locations, frequency of chick feedings, and prey they are consuming. Puffins are sensitive to any changes in their feeding grounds since they are not the most energy-efficient of all flying birds. According to their research, the primary reason for the population loss is a decrease in the food availability close to the colonies.
In Skomer’s bright summertime sunshine, puffins are calling. On the rafts at sea near their breeding colonies, pair bonding starts but doesn’t stop there. Puffins exhibit their love in a variety of ways. Billing, their most well-known courting behavior, is a stunning manifestation of love and devotion.
When the sea thrift is just starting to bloom, late June is a lovely time to visit Fair Isle. I plan my travel to coincide with the vibrant uprising. The lovely pink blooms on the summer machair that frame this photograph are
Thousands of seabirds, notably the Atlantic puffin, breed along the magnificent cliffs of Britain’s most northerly point, Muckle Flugga, which is seen from the Hermaness national nature reserve on the island of Unst.
Based in Merseyside, Kevin Morgans is a seasoned wildlife photographer. He travels extensively throughout his life with a camera, getting close to the isolated places where his subjects live. He received the Bird Photographer of the Year Awards in 2021 in the portfolio category for his work with puffins, an internationally competitive honor.
Thanks to The Guardian whose reporting provided the original basis for this story.