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The Puffin, King of St Kilda - John McEwen

Regulars | By John McEwen


90 years ago today, the last people left the island of St Kilda. Now it's ruled by puffins, writes John McEwen

Where the small burn Spreads into the sea loch I found the mad, clever clown’s beak Of a puffin. How many times Had it whirled into its burrow With six-fold whisker Of tiny fishes? How many times Had it grunted love To its parrot-faced lover? Norman MacCaig, from ‘Puffin’ It requires a pilgrimage to see seabirds – so the cutest-looking member of the auk family, the puffin (Fratercula (little friar) arctica), is the only one in the top ten most popular UK birds list. Penguin’s Puffin books for children, launched in 1940, prevail; and oldies will remember Lundy island’s puffin stamps – Lundy is the anglicised lunde, the bird’s Norse name. The collective noun is a circus of puffins. The carnival-mask beak acts as a spade for digging the nest burrow – assisted by sharp, raking toenails – and can hold and catch fish simultaneously; 61 sand eels and two...


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