South West Wales

200 puffin decoys to lure birds back to Ramsey Island

Wardens are playing a long mating game in using "decoy" puffins to lure the real birds back to Pembrokeshire's Ramsey Island.

Around 200 look-alike models pepper the island in a bid to encourage puffins looking for love to drop in.

Puffins disappeared in the 1890s, easy prey for brown rats which arrived on ships.

The decoys have been used for two years but although puffins have been spotted in the area so far none have settled.

Although the rats were eradicated in 2000, the RSPB have been trying ways to attract the puffins back.

Ramsey Island nature reserve warden Greg Morgan reports puffins are starting to appear closer to the island but he is not sure if that is because of the decoys which he started to use in May 2009.

"The project may take several years to work, if at all," he said.

"We are noticing more puffins around the island each year, sitting on the water amongst other auks - guillemots and razorbills - but there are no confirmed sightings of puffins on land as yet," he said.

"The good news is that this method has been used successfully elsewhere."

Ailsa Craig, an island off Scotland, has seen the reintroduction of puffins after they were also preyed on by rats as well as Eastern Egg Rock Island off Maine in the US, although this was in conjunction with a chick translocation project.

Image caption Puffins died out on the island, preyed on by brown rats

Puffins do not start to breed until they are at least five years old.

In the years prior they visit colonies looking for suitable future sites such as islands off Ramsey - North Bishop and Skomer.

"It is these non-breeding prospecting birds, at their peak in July, which we are hoping to attract," said Mr Morgan.

One possible problem is that birds are strongly drawn to the sites where they were born.

"Hopefully, the North Bishop colony, which only has a limited amount of room for new birds and Skomer, which is densely populated with burrowing seabirds, are close enough to allow overspill birds to consider Ramsey as a viable option," he said.

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