The two-year study by MaREI and conservation charity ZSL tracked puffins from Little Saltee, Co Wexford by GPS — and discovered that the birds are using the strong tidal currents in the region for a ‘free ride’ across feeding areas, saving them close to half of their usual energy usage.
Previous seabird tracking studies have shown that birds travel between often distant patches at sea where they concentrate feeding, requiring considerable effort — particularly for puffins, whose wings are short and adapted for swimming underwater.
“Our puffins have completely dispensed with the need to fly between patches of food,” said lead author Ashley Bennison, a researcher at MaREI.
It is as yet unclear exactly how the Saltee Islands’ puffins came to adapt their behaviour.
But the study, which marks the first time Irish puffins have been tracked in this manner, concludes that such behaviours are likely to be found elsewhere.
“We have long suspected that animals are able to adapt their foraging behaviour to the local environment, and this is an excellent example of how animals can surprise us with their ingenuity,” Bennison said.
The full study is published in the journal Biology Letters.