Faroe Islands are a paradise for both birds and bird lovers. About 300 different bird species are around, 100 of them as regular migrants or breeding birds. Which leads us straightforwardly to – fanfare – the adorable but yet puzzling puffin. An animal, on which an entirely inaccurate picture has been drawn. No doubt about it: Puffins are a lot more than cute.
Annually, those amazing creatures spend eight months at sea. Nevertheless, puffins may reach 26 years of age. As soon as they turn five or six, they start to breed. Every year, always with the same partner, and always in the exact same burrow. Spring is the time to dig and renovate; beaks serve as shovels. The surprising dimension of a breeding burrow: up to one meter deep and three meters wide. The focus of interest, the nest, is located in the furthermost corner, safe and warm.
Mykines, the westernmost island of the Faroe archipelago, is a great place to study puffins. Stay on the trails, you don’t want to disturb the birds. On top of this, the hillside you are actually walking on resembles Swiss cheese. Hundreds of thousands of puffins have perforated it over the centuries.
I clearly remember a day on Mykines in May. Glorious, sunny weather and a smooth passage on ferry Jósup. Deep blue waters, steep faces and razor-sharp contours passing by. Later, arriving at the small harbor, climbing up steep stairs and passing the village, ready to explore what’s covered in lush green. A natural beauty, inhabited by a vast number of puffins.
Densely packed colonies on crags. Look how those droll fellows fly: Incredible wing beat, up to 400 times per minute. With their fin-like wings, puffins even seem to fly underwater. Intriguing: Those little creatures chase their prey down to a depth of 60 meters, using their wide, orange-colored feet as rudder. A puffin’s body is compact and small – and yet it can speed up to 90 kilometers per hour.
This summer, I will be back on Mykines once more. I intend on watching the birds taking care of their hatchlings. The calls of the little ones are supposed to sound like switched on chain saws … Busy time for the parent birds. The hungry chicks need to be fed at least four times daily. The average catch of the grown-ups should be around 10 fish per trip. Their upper beak is armed with bent spines. These spines eventually make the transport possible. What an odd kind of delivery service.