The “Pysja” – Puffling rescue in Westman  Islands

The atlantic puffin,  sometimes called the Priest because of its  stately plumage is much loved by Icelanders. 

One of the largest puffin colonies is found in  Westman Islands, a  very important home for  60% of the world  puffin population.

The puffin is a pelagic bird living out in the ocean for its first years. When they reach maturity and are ready for mating and nesting, they move to the  islands’ many  clifftops. 

The male puffin digs a whole, up to 3 feet deep,  in the ground above the cliffs. A nest, lined with feathers and grass is built at  the bottom of the burrow.  This is a  clever way to minimize the attacks from predatory seabirds.   

About six weeks later the pufflings emerge from the egg and in mid-August, early-September they are ready to take the leap out the  sea.  Some pufflings take longer time to leave the burrow and go as late as October.  

The birds use the moon to navigate to the sea,  but after having spent their time in the dark burrow they are  unfamiliar with the environment and may not have mastered the art of flying completely.  This is where the Pysja Patrol comes in.  The children of Westman Islands do a very important job every year.  They collect the Pysjas – pufflings-  in the town each evening.  The Pysjas, confused by the citylights are lost,  so instead of heading out to sea, they land in town and don’t have a clue how to find their way.  Beetween the months of August and October,  the children of Westman Islands go out, collect the pufflings who only weigh 10 oz. and   put them in cardboard boxes. Next day the children  take the pufflings back to the cliffs.  They throw the birds into the wind in the hope that they will find their way out to the sea.  Pysjas who are too weak to return to the sea imediately are brought to the Sæheimar Natural History Museum where they are  fed and nursed until they are ready for their journey. 

This year the Pysja patrol saved almost 5.000 pufflings which would perhaps have perished without their help.  It’s obvious that their effort is  keeping the puffin numbers on level. 

Travellers  in South Iceland, interested in puffins,  can easly go to the Westman Islands by the Herjólfur Ferry, which sails every day between Landeyjahöfn and Vestmannaeyjar.  The journey takes oly 35 minutes.  If you are interested to see the Pysja patrol at their rescuing work, time to go would be from Mid-August to end  October.

On the return journey the passengers of the ferry can enjoy the beautiful landscape of South Iceland, the sandy beach Sólheimasandur and  the glaciers Eyjafjallajökul and Mýrdalsjökull if the visibility is good. 

Arcanum Glacier tours operate glacier walks on Sólheimajökull  and snowmobile tours on Mýrdalsjökull.  More information and departures HERE