In Sept-Îles, it’s not the swallow that makes spring but the Atlantic puffin

It is in the Côtes-d'Armor, off Perros-Guirec, in the nature reserve of Sept-Iles, that the last colony of puffins in France can be found today.

The Atlantic puffin, which belongs to the family of seabirds, is not very shy. It is easily recognizable with its small round head, its black spots around its triangle-shaped eyes and its large spring-coloured beak. His celebrity also comes from his easily recognizable original approach, a bit like Charlie.

With its small wings, the Atlantic puffin is difficult to fly but it is an excellent diver. It can go up to 60 m deep to feed. It is one of the few birds that can hold several fish in its beak because it has a rapping tongue that retains its slippery prey.

It is a "deep sea" bird. It spends most of its life, at least seven months a year, in the middle of the ocean. It is difficult to recognize in winter, its beak changes shape, loses its orange color and its face becomes dull. But after this wintering period, the puffin goes through a big stage of its life.

From March, puffins return to dry land to form breeding colonies. They are mainly found in Iceland, northern Norway, southern New Zealand, southwestern Greenland and northeastern North America. In France, the last colony is off the Côte de Granit Rose, in the Sept-Îles reserve.

Puffins pair for life. It is during the mating season that puffins' beaks take on the beautiful bright orange color that we know of. The couple only has five months to ensure their descendants. Each female lays a single egg and both parents raise their chick together. They build their nest on the cliffs in small crevices, small burrows. At the end of the summer, the little one will take off, only to return the following spring. The life expectancy of the puffin is twenty-five years.

At the beginning of the 20th century, real “safaris” were organized in Brittany to hunt the Atlantic puffin in the Sept-Îles archipelago. The hunters met off Perros-Guirec and they practiced a real massacre.

In 1900, one could read on the advertising posters of the Compagnie des chemins de fer de l'Ouest that Perros-Guirec was famous for "shrimp fishing and seabird hunting".

“At the time, the Sept-Îles had the largest colony of Atlantic puffins in mainland France. It was estimated at 15,000 pairs at the beginning of the last century. But the influx of hunters led to a very rapid decline in the population of these birds, and in 1912, there were only 400 pairs left... “Explains Gilles Bentz, former manager of the LPO station on Île-Grande in an article in Le Télégramme (2017)

The Atlantic puffin owes its survival today, thanks to the creation of the Sept-Îles Nature Reserve. This site has been classified as a national nature reserve since 1976, but the story began much earlier, with the creation of the Bird Protection League (LPO) denouncing and prohibiting since 1912 the hunting of puffins then persecuted by hunter-exterminators.

Thanks to this action, the Atlantic puffins survived but subsequently had to deal with oil spills, wild degassing, various (light) pollutions, further reducing their population. At the Sept Iles, the nature reserve is still managed today by the League for the Protection of Birds, of which the puffin is its emblem. This last colony in France only has about 200 pairs, protected by ornithologists.

With Marine Barnérias, set off off the coast of Granit Rose, in thearchipelago of seven islands. This nature reserve protects the largest community of seabirds in mainland France (25,000 pairs of nesting seabirds of 11 different species). A fight, when we know that between 1950 and 2010, nearly 70% of seabird species have disappeared in the world. Pascal Provost and Armel Deniau are the guardians of this place. They assess the state of health marine biodiversity while informing citizens of the fragility of all these islands...

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