Our cute friends the Puffin are having some struggles, with numbers of breeding pairs plummeting in one of their breeding grounds on the Isle of May, just down the road and a short ferry ride from where I grew up in Scotland.
Only 70% of nests on the island are now being occupied, while adult birds that have landed on the island have been underweight and malnourished. The finding follows the discovery of numerous dead puffins washing up along the coast over the last two winters.
Professor Mike Harris, the lead researcher with the Oxfordshire-based Centre for Ecology and Hydrology, said the precise causes of the decline were complex and unclear but it seemed very likely that warming seas, changes and shifts in puffin food supplies, and intensive fishing across the North Sea were to blame.
Although the bird – which has a relatively long 30-year lifecycle - congregates in large colonies such as the Isle of May to breed in the spring, it spreads across the sea to winter on the water. It also has a wide and varied diet, from zooplankton and worms, to small fish such as sand eels, and squid.
As a result, its decline suggests a profound problem across the North Sea rather than an isolated or one-off event, said Harris. "We're looking for something acting over a substantial part of the North Sea," he said. "Something big is going on at a wide scale."