The Winter Storms Take A Surprising Toll…

Photo: Mike Alexander,
Puffins on Skomer   Photo: Mike Alexander,

This article by Michael McCarthy in the Independent newspaper describes a sad and worrying consequence of the exceptionally frequent and severe storms that we have experienced this winter….

“Tens of thousands of birds – particularly auks such as puffins, guillemots (pictured) and razorbills – have died as a result of the seemingly endless gales of the last two months. Their remains are now being washed up on the coasts of Wales, Cornwall and the Channel Islands, and even more so on the Atlantic coast of France – that is, the beaches of the Bay of Biscay, which is where large numbers of British puffins and their auk cousins spend the winter”.

Photo: Mike Alexander,
Photo: Mike Alexander,

“It is one of the largest “wrecks” of seabirds ever witnessed and bears comparison with the huge bird mortalities caused by the oil spills from tanker disasters of recent years, such as the Amoco Cadiz in 1978 and the Erika in 1999, both off the coast of Brittany, as well as the 1993 spill of the tanker Braer off Shetland and the 1996 spill of the Sea Empress off south Wales.

And counter-intuitive though it may be, it is indeed the sea that’s killing them. The birds are dying because this winter, they have had to expend too much energy fighting big waves and big winds over a long period at a time, when food is harder than ever to find, since fish shoals are broken up in the storms. Latest estimates from the Wildlife Trusts partnership suggest a confirmed death toll of around 25,000, which is expected to rise steadily as more corpses are washed ashore”.

Photo: Mike Alexander,
Guillemots    Photo: Mike Alexander,

“This natural disaster only serves to underline how vulnerable our seabirds are to other threats, such as the oil spills, and increasingly to two more dangers – climate change, and overfishing. Seabird colonies in northern Britain, in areas such as Orkney and Shetland, are doing increasingly badly – in some, only a fifth of the breeding birds are raising chicks – and this has happened because their food, largely small fish called sandeels, has disappeared. It may be because of too much trawling, or it may be because in rising water temperatures the sandeels have moved north – but they’re no longer available, and fears are growing that all British seabird colonies may similarly suffer”.

Photo: Mike Alexander,
Puffin on Skomer  Photo: Mike Alexander,

27 thoughts on “The Winter Storms Take A Surprising Toll…”

  1. Thanks for the marvelous posting! I really enjoyed reading it, you are a great author.

    I will remember to bookmark your blog and will often come back from now on. I want to encourage you to definitely continue your great job,
    have a nice evening!

  2. I’m so jealous of your Puffin photos. I would love to see these little cuties in person. It is so sad to see even one parish let alone more. Let’s hope spring brings good news!

  3. When will our governments recognize the need to take climate change seriously? How many species have to perish? This is so tragic. Thank you for writing this post Mike.

    1. Thank you LuAnn, yes it would be nice for all our governments to take climate change more seriously, but alas I don’t think they will, there just isn’t the depth of understanding of these issues amongst politicians and the wider public who vote for them

  4. I read this in the news too, and it is very sad and worrying. It makes you wonder also about birds like owls which rely on calm weather in order to hunt and feed. I only hope that nature finds a way of balancing this devastating effect on wildlife.

    1. I find it sad when I look back over a 25 year career in nature conservation to think that in the late 1980’s many of us were talking about the urgent need to improve our countryside to make it more resilient to climate change so that species would have a better chance of coping. During that period I would say that successive governments have done precisely nothing about it, although there have been many other organisations and people who have tried their best despite almost complete lack of support from government. And still today all we hear about is flood defences and engineering solutions. We don’t hear about barn owls, sea birds and everything else that will suffer more than ever now. I’m glad there are so many people like you and Colin though Jo who do care and do so much in your own ways to help, I guess that’s all we can do ultimately.

  5. The puffins are so cute ♡ The first picture where the birds are surrounded by flowers is probably the closest you can get to a tribute to the puffins 🙂 oh! and also the last one and number two 😉
    It would be great if there could be done an active effort to save the many birds from perishing. I read that also many puffins died last year due to storms.
    Thanks for sharing.
    All the best,

  6. Puffins are so special. We have the tufted puffin on the Pacific. The guillemots are real people birds too, hanging around the fishboats. Thanks for this post. I had no idea of the huge loss of birds on your side of the pond. Hopefully there are enough left to make a good comeback in the next couple of years. Very sad to see such a loss.

    1. Thanks Anneli, they are lovely aren’t they? I hope you’re right and they recover, trouble is if we keep having extreme weather one wonders how they’ll cope, especially when they have to contend with other pressures like over fishing

  7. How very sad. I fear that climate change is going to do us lots more damage in the years to come. How can we truly convince out leaders to act? The animals deserve better. The planet deserves better!

  8. Once more it shows how important it is for us to act responsibly and honour our environment as part of us. – A Native American friend of mine always used to remind us that our bodies – which are the vessels that allow us to walk and experience ourselves here on earth – are made of exactly that: our mother earth. That makes us part of it, not something apart from it.

    I hope that those who still need to wake up are hearing this call and that the poulations will grow back, some day. These birds make this earth so much more colourful.

    Thank you for posting this, Mike – and also for sharing Mike A.’s beautiful images.

    Much love,

  9. Oui, c’est triste et grave, mais les images sont tellement belles … J’adore la première, un doux moment de tendresse … merci Mike pour le partage ! Passe un bon weekend.

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