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Why Icelandic People Throw Baby Puffins Over the Cliffside Every Year

Iceland Wildlife Sustainability
by Olivia Harden Sep 13, 2022

If you’ve ever wanted to marvel at adorable puffins, there are many places to do it worldwide: Labrador and Newfoundland in Canada, for example, as well as parts of the Northeastern United States like Maine, the south of France, northern Iceland, northern Russia, and Greenland. But the best place to catch these “parrots of the sea” is a trip to Iceland. Sixty percent of the world’s Atlantic puffin population resides in the country, and they come up to shore between May and August to lay their eggs. And Icelanders have had to adopt an interesting tradition of throwing baby puffins (called pufflings) off a cliff to keep that population strong.

@kyanasue I want a pet puffin 😫 I miss my Pufflings already #iceland #puffins #westmanislands #vestmannaeyjar #reykjavik #icelandtrip #traditions ♬ Love You So – The King Khan & BBQ Show

The “puffling patrol” is actual an important part of managing the puffin population when there are man-made lights present. The young birds confuse street lights with the natural signs they typically follow to the ocean. It’s not just on land, either, as pufflings in the harbor have to be rescued as well. The following morning, those who lost their way are put in boxes and thrown into the air (think of it like a running start to a jump) so they can begin their flight out toward the ocean.

If you decide to go puffin-watching, remember that even though they do not fear humans, they are still wild animals that you should respect. Don’t try to unnecessarily touch them or feed them. The cliffs that puffins reside on can be dangerous for people, as it’s easy to slip and fall on the burrows made for their eggs, which also face the danger of collapsing if you step on them. The best way to go is to approach the birds very slowly and quietly and then lie down in the grass and try not to move. And, of course, be sure to check out everything else that Iceland has to offer.

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