The Puffin Saviours
Puffins are beautiful creatures, and one of the many wonders of nature that attract people to Iceland. The seabirds spend most of their life at sea and are great swimmers who can dive down to 60 meters (200 feet) when looking for prey.
In spring, their famous beaks turn from a nonchalant gray and become vibrant and colorful in order attract potential mates. During mating season, the puffins take to land and nest in deep nesting burrows on the top of rocky cliffs. Around 60% of Atlantic puffins breed in Iceland and they are most common in Vestmannaeyjar, Látrabjarg, Ingólfshöfði and Dyrhólaey, where the cliffs offer a safe place to bring up their young.
In early fall, the adult birds desert the nesting site and the young puffins (or pysjur as we call them) are left to fend for themselves. In Vestmannaeyjar their closeness to the town brings up problems. As hunger sets in and the pysjur leave their nests they are drawn to the lights of the town and get lost in the concrete jungle. Fortunately, they have some unexpected allies. The children of the town go out at night and work as “pysjuveiðarar” (pysju-hunters), armed with torches.
The hunters should maybe rather be called saviours, as they gather the young puffins in cardboard boxes and bring them to the local rescue house, where they are fed and kept safe overnight. The children’s help doesn’t end there, as they are back early next morning to bring the young puffins home. Each puffin is helped out of their rescue box and lifted up facing the sea. With a gentle fling they are released and spread their wings instinctively to fly off to their true habitat.
In mid September, most of the pysjur have been rescued and brought to sea. According to the pysju-rescue control in Vestmannaeyjar, the children have brought in a record of 4500 young puffins this year and might still reach 5000 rescued birds.
The video linked is a short clip from an Icelandic children’s program introducing young Icelanders to the work of pysjuveiðarar on the island of Vestmannaeyjar. Check it out to see the saviors in action!
The above depicted picture of two children with pysja is from http://saeheimar.is