Rathlin Island - The Place For Puffins!
Everybody loves puffins! The ‘clown of the sea’ is unmistakable with its black back and white underparts, black head with large pale cheeks and a tall, flattened, brightly-coloured bill.
Most most people don’t realise that these trademark bills are only for showing off during breeding season and they sport a much duller beak during winter! For most of the year, puffins bob about at sea, returning to land in April. Most puffins start breeding when they are five years old and often live for more than 20 years. Some young, inexperienced birds may change mates after breeding failures but most will mate with the same partner for many years.
Rathlin Island, which lies just six miles off the north coast of Northern Ireland and is accessible by ferry from Ballycastle, Co. Antrim, is home to one of the UK’s largest seabird colonies, including hundreds of puffins. During the summer these comical creatures share the cliffs at the island’s west lighthouse with thousands of other seabirds, from kittiwakes to fulmars, but they are undoubtedly the star of the show.
Ran by the RSPB NI, visitors from all around the world make the journey to Rathlin to enjoy stunning views of these birds. As well as the visual spectacle, the sound and smell is pretty crazy too! Between April and July the birds are hard at work raising their young (which are known as ‘pufflings’) and by August, the puffins and their charges are back off to sea.
As well as enjoying close-up views of the wonderful wildlife you’ll also have the opportunity to explore the ‘upside down’ lighthouse. Situated at the heart of the colony, it’s a spectacular feat of engineering, clinging to the cliff face with the lantern gleaming red at its foot. Along with 11 other lighthouses around the Irish coast, Rathlin West Light is now part of the Great Lighthouses of Ireland trail.
Opening hours of The Rathlin West Light Seabird Centre vary, check before travelling by calling 028 9049 1547 or contact RSPBNI via their social channels – Facebook or Twitter. The Seabird Centre is open from 10am until 5pm every day until the end of September and can be accessed via the Rathlin Trail. Admission is free for RSPB members, £5 for adults and £2.50 for children. Please note that while the main visitor centre is accessible, there is an 89 step descent to the viewing platform and a similar number of steps down through the lighthouse.
Don’t forget there’s a lot more of the island to explore too! For keen walkers, we recommend exploring the Rathlin Roonivoolin Trail on the southern arm of the island. This ramble through the RSPB NI nature reserve is home to a rich variety of birds and wildlife, from common blue butterflies to wildflowers, soaring birds of prey to Northern Ireland’s only family of chough.
Planning a visit to see the Puffins? Tag us on Instagram, Facebook and Twitter using #WalkNI.