As It Happens

Puffins return to sanctuary near Isle of Man for 1st time in decades

Aron Sapsford says it feels like a dream to see puffins waddling about on the Calf of Man again.

‘It's something that I don't think we ever thought would perhaps happen again,’ says Calf of Man warden 

A real puffin, right, was spotted perching next to a decoy puffin on the Calf of Man recently, marking the first time the birds have come ashore to the island sanctuary in decades. (Keirron Tastagh/Adventurous Experiences/Manx Wildlife Trust )

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Aron Sapsford says it feels like a dream to see puffins waddling about on the Calf of Man again.

Sapsford is a warden on the island and bird sanctuary off the southwest coast of the U.K.'s Isle of Man. Historically, the Calf was a nesting ground for dozens of Atlantic puffins.

But the tiny seabirds haven't come ashore to breed since 1997 — until now.

"It's something that I don't think we ever thought would perhaps happen again. So, really quite exciting," Sapsford told As It Happens host Carol Off.

Decoy birds and puffin calls 

A number of factors led to the decline of puffins on the Calf of Man, Sapsford said, but the primary culprits were invasive brown rats that like to feast on bird eggs. 

The critters are not native to the Calf. They are believed to have arrived on a Russian merchant ship that ran aground in the 1700s, Sapsford said.

As the brown rat population grew, the Calf saw its nesting seabird population dwindle. The Manx Wildlife Trust, which runs the island, has been working for years to undo the damage.

The Trust implemented a brown rat eradication program in 2012 that's been very successful, Sapsford said. And in 2016, they put out porcelain decoy puffins and speakers playing puffin calls to try to lure the birds back.

It finally seems to be working. Kayakers with the Adventurous Experiences tour group first spotted a couple puffins next to the decoy birds earlier this week and snapped some pictures.

A puffin, left, is seen here on Wednesday next to a decoy puffin on the Calf of Man. (Robert Fisher/Manx Wildlife Trust )

"They sort of appeared in our inbox and we were quite amazed by those to start with. But we went down to the area the following day and had actually managed to see the birds coming ashore, and we actually saw one bird carrying nesting material towards what we hope is where it's breeding," Sapsford said.

He said they've counted four puffins in total who seem to be hanging around the Calf. 

"It's a small number that hopefully... will build over the next few years," he said.

It's not the Calf's first success. The brown rats also scared off the island's Manx shearwater seabirds. They were completely extinct from the Calf by the beginning of 19th century, but Sapsford says they now have 600-700 breeding pairs.

He hopes more seabirds will follow.

"Certainly seabirds in the U.K. have been struggling over the last few decades, the numbers have been decreasing," he said.

"We're hoping that this is part of a success story we could potentially get of the seabirds coming back."

Written by Sheena Goodyear. Interview produced by Katie Geleff. 

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