It’s Puffling Season! Time to Launch Some Birds Off Cliffs!

Sep 28, 2022

People on Iceland’s Westman Islands take puffin-chucking seriously. After all, tossing them off cliffs helps protect the birds.

Puffins nest on high sea cliffs. The cliffs shelter chicks until they’re ready to fledge. That's when they grow the feathers they need to fly. When a young puffin finally takes off, it follows the moonlight. This guides it to the ocean. However, light from man-made sources can confuse the babies. That light draws them to land. There, they could be killed by other animals. They could also starve. That’s where concerned humans come in.

“Puffling” is another word for baby puffins. It's also what people call their practice of helping confused chicks. They carry a puffling to the nearest cliff. They toss it into the air. Then, the baby can safely find its way to the ocean. Icelanders have many methods. Some opt for a gentle underhand throw. Others, however, are more spirited.

"Some people kind of hold it like a football with the wings out and then they shoot it,” Kyana Sue Powers told NPR. Powers is a travel blogger who focuses on Iceland. “But you know, it's not aggressive, (the puffins) are ready to go."

Puffin numbers have dropped sharply over the past century. They live with the constant threats of climate change and human harvesting. Their meat is considered a delicacy in parts of Europe. Since puffins only incubate one egg per season, helping the fledglings makes a big difference.

"If you have one failed generation after another after another after another," Rodrigo A. Martinez Catalán of the South Iceland Nature Research Center said, "the population is through, pretty much."

Photo from Public Domain courtesy Wikimedia Commons.

Which of the following questions is answered by information in the fifth paragraph? (Common Core RI.5.2; RI.6.2)
a. What is “puffling”?
b. Why is the puffin population declining?
c. Where do puffins nest?
d. Where do people engage in the activity of “puffling”?
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