Monitoring the effects of weather on puffin behaviour



Written by Emma Watson


Skálanes Nature and Heritage Centre is home to a small sub-colony of puffins who regularly nest on the cliffs next to the Centre’s observation deck. I decided to conduct my own research project into how this colony is affected by weather conditions – being able to study my favourite animal on our expedition seemed like too good of an opportunity to pass up!

Due to its rapid population decline, the puffin is classed as a vulnerable species by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN), which is widely considered as the global authority on biodiversity and conservation of nature1. High wind speeds and precipitation levels can make it harder for puffins to fly2,3, reducing how much they are able to forage for themselves and their offspring4,5, and fluctuating sea temperatures can affect how much prey is available to them6. This means that the increasing frequency of extreme weather conditions predicted as a result of climate change can affect the breeding success of puffins, leading to even further declines in their population numbers.  

Therefore, I decided to investigate whether the activities of the sub colony at Skálanes are affected by weather conditions, in order to help predict the response of puffin behaviours to the potential effects of climate change and help inform future conservation efforts. 

To answer this question, I will be carrying out 2-hour long observation sessions of the puffins three times a day, closely studying the behaviours of the colony and investigating whether these behaviours change depending on the weather conditions at the time of each observation. With the help of binoculars, long lens cameras and my trusty team-mates, I will be looking at:    

  • How often puffins forage 
  • How long they forage for 
  • How much, and what type of, prey they bring back  
  • How much time they spend on land at the colony 

  I will be recording the following weather data at the beginning of each observation session: 

  • Wind speed and direction 
  • Temperature  
  • Precipitation 
  • Humidity 
  • Visibility 

  This will allow me to investigate whether more extreme conditions affect the above behaviours. 

I have hypothesised that when weather conditions are more extreme, the frequency and duration of puffin foraging will decline, and the amount of prey puffins bring back to their nests will decrease.

My research will also contribute to the long-term monitoring of the population data of the Skálanes colony, so be sure to follow my progress on our blog, Instagram and Facebook pages. I plan on sharing lots of pictures of this charismatic little bird too! 



1 IUCN (2019). Fratercula Arctica (Atlantic Puffin). The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. [online] Available at: [Accessed 17 Nov 2019]. 

2 Harris, M. (1984). The Puffin. 1st ed. Staffordshire: T & A D Poyser Ltd, pp. 19, and 76-77.

3 Durant, J., Stenseth, N., Anker-Nilssen, T., Harris, M., Thompson, P. and Wanless, S., 2004a. Marine birds and climate fluctuations in the North Atlantic. In: N. Stenseth, G. Ottersen, J. Hurrell and A. Belgrano, ed., Marine Ecosystems and Climate Variation. 1st ed. Oxford: Oxford University Press, pp.95-104.

4 Boyd, C., Punt, A.E., Weimerskirch, H. and Bertrand, S., 2014. Movement models provide insights into variation in the foraging effort of central place foragers. Ecological modelling, 286, pp.13-25.

5 Erikstad, K.E., Sandvik, H., Fauchald, P. and Tveraa, T., 2009. Short‐and long‐term consequences of reproductive decisions: an experimental study in the puffin. Ecology, 90(11), pp.3197-3208.

6 Barrett, R.T., Nilsen, E.B. and Anker-Nilssen, T., 2012. Long-term decline in egg size of Atlantic puffins Fratercula arctica is related to changes in forage fish stocks and climate conditions. Marine Ecology Progress Series, 457, pp.1-10.



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