Puffins are one of the iconic birds of the remote sea cliffs of Britain. They’re instantly recognised by pretty much everyone in the country - but relatively few people have had the chance to see one in the feathers.
The first reaction to seeing a puffin is almost always ‘They’re small!’. Somehow, somewhere along the line we’ve built up a collective mental picture that equates puffins and penguins, and most people (even the ones who’ve never seen a penguin) think that puffins are a lot bigger than are.
Puffins might only be ten inches tall but they more than make up for this in attitude. They are fantastically confident little birds, very happy to pose for photographers, but also capable of defending themselves again other puffins and against intrusive ornithologists. Putting your hand into a puffin burrow is a task only for the foolhardy or well-gloved - both claws and beak are well adopted for burrow digging and for defence.
There are lots of places around the UK (and further north too) to see puffins. My favourite puffin spotting site is the RSPB-owned cliffs around Sumburgh Head at the south end of Shetland. The arrival of the puffins (in early April) is the sign that it really is spring and the puffins stay around the cliffs until late July (usually) before heading back out to sea.