We know from our recent survey that large numbers of our fantastic Members, Friends and Supporters are keen to hear about, and learn more about, our wildlife; where better to start than with our returning Puffins?! 

April heralds the return of our regionally, nationally and internationally important breeding seabirds, including our loveable "awkward Auks". 

When visitors to Scilly join us on our weekly guided Wildlife Safari, with WiSe (Wildlife Safe) accredited St Agnes Boating, we always ask the same questions at the beginning of the trip.

As we leave St Agnes, heading out past the Cow the first question is posed, “Who wants to see Seals?”; more than half the hands invariably shoot up. 

This makes our task relatively easy, Seals are pretty much guaranteed every trip and we know we’ll have half a boat, or more, of happy, smiley people in awe of these charismatic creatures; who doesn’t love a Seal?! 

The second question, “Who wants to see a Puffin?”; sees the rest of the hands join the ones already reaching for the sky and “Puffin Patrol” becomes order of the day.

We expect to see these raised hands, Seals and Puffins are “iconic Scilly” and we really want to make people’s day if not their holiday, but Puffins can be tricky little critters. 

When we ask these questions in August and the hands shoot heaven-wards, we have to break the news that seeing Puffins is, sadly, highly unlikely; but we’ll still have an awesome time!  

Puffins come to our Islands to nest and breed; arriving and departing annually pretty much like clockwork.  In the last few days of March one or two may start to arrive, but they really start to make an appearance as we move into April, before departing again in the last few days of July; by August 1st you wouldn’t know they’d been here. 

So, the first thing you need to know, and be prepared for, if you want to see a Puffin? 

Visit Scilly between April and July 

For those that raise their hands to our “Who wants to see a Puffin?” question between April and July, our follow-up question is always “Ok, so who has seen a Puffin before?”  At this point most of the hands are quickly pulled back down and there’s the odd shout of “I’ve seen one on TV!” 

This is where the fun starts.  We want those who travel with us to be in awe of our awkward little Auks (Puffins belong to the wider Auk family, along with their cousins the Razorbill and Guillemot), we don’t want people to be disappointed by what they are (hopefully) about to see.

As many people have seen Puffins on TV they ordinarily have nothing to compare them to for size and imaginations tend to get the better of us; a common misconception is that Puffins are the size of Penguins!  You may laugh, if you are a Puffin aficionado, but think back to the time before you first saw one and be honest with yourself; you thought they’d be bigger too, didn’t you?

The second thing you need to know, and be prepared for, if you want to see a Puffin? 

Don’t expect to see a Penguin sized bird; Puffins are tiny, so bring your binoculars 

It would be brilliant if they were the size of Penguins, they’d be a lot less tricky to spot; but your average Puffin measures just 18cm (or 10 inches) high!  Not only that, when flying a Puffin can reach speeds of up to 55mph, flapping their wings at a staggering 400 beats per minute!  Couple that with their diving ability, whereby they can spend anywhere up to a minute underwater, diving to depths of 60m (200ft).  We really do have our work cut out on “Puffin Patrol”.

The third thing you need to know, and be prepared for, if you want to see a Puffin?

Puffins are super quick, both above and below the water  

Ordinarily, our first sighting of a Puffin is a little black dot heading towards the horizon at a rate of knots or diving below the waves and popping up again many tens of metres further away.  But they are often incredibly inquisitive too and will perform “fly-bys”, circling around the boat to get a better look at their spectators; sometimes it’s difficult to tell who is watching who!

Puffins are full of character and although incredibly clumsy when on land (quite often crash landing and tripping over their own feet!), they are excellent fliers; both in the air and under the sea. 

These “Clowns of the Sea” really do put on a spectacular show, when they are in the right frame of mind.  But as with all our wildlife it’s important to remember that they are just that, wild; we cannot guarantee a “performance” but if we find them and they put on a show we know that you will not be disappointed.

If you’d like to know more about the life of a Scilly Puffin why not head on over to the Puffin section of our website?  If you’d like to support our locally-run, Island, conservation charity in researching, protecting and looking after not just Puffins but all of Scilly’s wildlife then become a “Friend of Scilly Wildlife”; help us keep Scilly wild and peaceful.

Help protect Scilly's Seabirds