Puffin season runs from late August and into September in Iceland
HALLDOR KOLBEINS/AFP via Getty Images
Social media users were shocked to find out that people in Iceland are throwing baby puffins off cliffs – and they have been doing it for decades.
Residents of several Icelandic towns traditionally go out looking for baby Atlantic puffins, or pufflings, through late August and September, explained TikTok user Jenn, whose handle is @thatgoodnewsgirl.
It isn’t as bad as it sounds though. The practice has become vital to the survival of the species, according to experts, as pufflings have increasingly become confused by the bright lights of towns like Vestmannaeyjabaer in the Westman Islands.
Where they would naturally find their way from their hatch site to the sea using the light of the moon, they now often wander into brightly lit towns which are much more dangerous than their natural habitat.
As a result, residents now have a yearly tradition of going out to find the pufflings at night, keeping them safe overnight in cardboard boxes before chucking them off the cliffs the next morning.
Crucially, the pufflings can already fly, and flap out towards the sea to rejoin their colonies.
One commenter said: “I was concerned at first, glad there was a happy explanation.”
Another added: “I was about to get super upset and it turned into the most wholesome story.”
People are tossing baby puffins off cliffs and shorelines in Iceland - and it’s for their own good! These people are on Puffling Patrol and they’re saving the baby puffins one by one ❤️ I first learned about the Puffling Patrol because many of you tagged me in a video by @Kyana Sue Powers • Iceland, and then I went down a rabbit hole learning more about it! She posts about all things Iceland if you’re interested in more. 🇮🇸 🎥 CBC News / Nat Geo TV / @Oda W. Andreasen (TikTok) / CBS / jj.trailwalker (Instagram) / NPR / Sebastien Despres (YouTube)
About 700,000 puffin chucks were born in the Westman Islands in 2021, which marks a return to regular numbers after 20 years of declining populations.
Rodrigo Martínez Catalán, a research assistant with the South Iceland Nature Research Center, told NPR the tradition has helped maintain populations of the birds, which mate for life and lay just one egg per season. Puffins can live for up to 25 years.
“It’s a great feeling because you just rescued this little guy. And when you bring him to the cliff—it’s the first time in his life he’s seeing the ocean," Kyana Sue Powers told NPR. “I’m always, like, ‘Bye, buddy—have a great life; I can’t wait to see you again!”
The people catching pufflings are also encouraged to log the weight of each bird on a website that helps researchers to monitor the health of the local puffin population.
TikToker Jen said: “The puffling patrol tradition isn’t just great for the puffins. It also brings the community of the Westman Islands together every year, uniting people over a good cause.”