The Westman Islands’ Puffin Patrol: an Icelandic Tradition

The Puffin Patrol of the Westman Islands

The Puffin Patrol: The Children Who Help Little Pufflings Spread Their Wings

By mid-September, puffins leave their burrows to spend the winter at sea. The large swaths of puffin burrows that spot the Westman island’s cliffside sit empty save for one family member they’ve purposefully left behind…

Puffings (baby puffins) are left unfed to encourage their first flight. Still in an awkward teen stage and lacking the colorful rounded bills of their parents, these ragtag youngsters leave their nest by mid-September in search of food.

The Puffin Patrol: a Seasonal Tradition

The village of Heimaey may be small but it still produces light pollution. The town draws in countless confused pufflings to crash land on its streets. And so, a heartwarming tradition begins.

September in Iceland harkens the noble puffin patrol. The children of Heimaey are protectors of all things helpless and small. With their parents close at hand, the Westman children get to work as the sun sets to twilight. A sort of easter egg hunt begins as bewildered pufflings fly towards town.

The Sealife Trust

Pufflings are prone to land in the middle of the street and becoming prey to cats, dogs, or cars. The Westman children spend the evenings scooping up the little pufflings and place them in cardboard boxes. Many families will set the birds free near cliff edges. Some, especially if the puffling is badly injured, will bring the little seabirds to the Sealife Trust. If you visit the Sealife Trust in September, you’ll see dozens of pufflings in there. They are fed and treated before being released. If the puffling has notable injuries, they become permanent residents.

A Tradition Rooted in Conservation

While most traditions worldwide have roots in appeasing nature or celebrating its bounty, the Puffin Patrol is the first seasonal celebration of protecting nature. It is not based in fears of nature’s uncontrollable force but in fear of what forces we have caused to control it. At this moment, there are few things that can be done on a global scale to prevent light pollution from hurting various species. But the most beautiful part of this tradition is instilling in young minds the inherent and relentless need to protect the world in which we live.

The Puffin Patrol may be the first conservation tradition but it will not be the last. We can expect to see new conservation efforts crop up with children at the forefront.

Q-Tip: If you are visiting the Westman Islands in September with your car, please choose not to drive in the evening hours. It will give the pufflings and the Puffin Patrol more of a chance!