Why It’s Perfectly Normal to See Baby Puffins Thrown Off Cliffs in Iceland This Time of Year

Watching thousands of baby puffins being tossed off a cliff is perfectly normal for the people of Iceland’s Westman Islands. This yearly tradition — known as “puffing season” — is a crucial, life-saving endeavor. The chicks of Atlantic puffins — or pufflings — hatch in burrows on high sea cliffs. When they’re ready, they fly from their colony and spend several years at sea until they return to land to breed. Pufflings have historically found the ocean by following the light of the moon. Now, however, city lights lead the birds astray. Many residents spend a few weeks at the end of summer collecting wayward pufflings that have crashed into town after mistaking human lights for the moon. Releasing the fledglings at the cliffs sets them on the correct path. As Rodrigo A. Martínez Catalán of South Iceland Nature Research Center explained, puffins — which mate for life — only incubate one egg per season and don’t lay eggs every year. “If you have one failed generation after another, the population is through, pretty much,” he said. The Westman Islands currently have the largest puffin colony, so its puffing season is popular. Residents search for puffins beginning at 9 p.m. and as late as 3 a.m. and hunt on foot, on bike, or even by boat. The Icelanders say it’s a great feeling to rescue the little pufflings, knowing they’re going to have a chance at life thanks to the efforts of puffing volunteers.