With their brightly coloured bills, orange feet and comical, waddling walk, the clown-like puffin is a much loved visitor to the cliffs and islands along the north Cornwall coast.
The Best Time to See Puffins in Cornwall
Each year, puffins return to the North Cornwall coast to breed. They’re one of the earliest migrant seabirds to return and one of the soonest to leave, arriving back in late March or April before heading back to the open sea from late July to mid-August. So the best time to see Puffins in Cornwall is between between April and late July with the peak breeding season being in May and June.
Where to See Puffins in Cornwall
Soon after the puffins have arrived they will start to clean out their old burrows or if necessary make a fresh home for the months ahead. They usually keep the same mate every season and use the same burrow as in previous years. If they need to make a new nest they dig out the earth using their powerful beaks and shovel the loose soil out using their feet.
The rabbit-like burrows of the puffin are clearly visible on the cliffs of the rumps and Mouls island on the coast of North Cornwall not far from Padstow, Rock and Polzeath. It is in these nests that a single egg is laid. The parent birds take it in turn to incubate the egg and after around forty days the puffin chick, known as a puffling, hatches. Both parents will share the duties of rearing the puffling for a further 40 days (around 6 weeks) before the puffling is full grown and ready to emerge, clumsily waddling, from the burrow with it’s parents. It makes it’s way to the water where it will live until returning to land to breed.
The very best way to get a good view of the puffins is to take to the water yourself. Get on board one of our 1 or 2 hour boat trips leaving from Padstow or Rock and our knowledgeable boat drivers will take you to the best places to have a good chance of spotting puffins. As well as puffins we regularly see dolphins, porpoises, seals and a wide variety of seabirds and occasionally basking sharks. BOOK NOW
The species of puffin that can be found at breeding sites in Cornwall is the Atlantic Puffin (formerly known as the Common Puffin) which lives in the North Atlantic. There are four species of puffin in total, the others being the Horned Puffin, the Tufted Puffin and the Rhinoceros Auklet. However, the Atlantic puffin is the smallest species and the only one found on our shores.
When the puffins leave land in late July to mid-August they return to the water and will remain at sea throughout the autumn and winter only coming back to land to breed once spring comes around. Puffins are incredibly well adapted for life at sea and whereas on land the puffin appears awkward and clumsy at sea they are excellent swimmers and can diver to depths of 200 feet in search of food. It is while the puffins are at sea that they lose their brightly coloured bills, in favour of a dull grey winter bill colouring.
Puffins live longer than you might think, many in excess of twenty years. Some puffins around the country have been recorded at ages of over thirty years old. Most puffins do not breed until they are 5 years old, as puffins have a long life they use their pre-breeding years to learn about feeding places, choosing a mate and nest sites.
Studies show that puffins are a clear indicator of ocean health, especially over-fishing. Puffins indicate the abundance of fish by the numbers of fish they bring ashore for their chicks. If over-fishing depletes fish populations then puffins will bring home less fish. This reduces the number of chicks that are successfully raised and is one of the reasons why we now see less puffins around our shores.