Puffins – the upstairs neighbours from hell

Bird cliffs are wonderful things.  Home to thousands – sometimes tens of thousands – of birds living in close proximity to one another, they are a cacophony of noise and a maelstrom of action.  On the cliffs birds mate, lay their eggs, raise and feed their young, and fight off predators.  All life – and sometimes death, too – is here.

And then, of course, there’s the delicate matter of having a poo.

We all know that when you’ve got to go, you’ve got to go.  And we also know it’s best not to mess in your own back yard.  But how does the fastidious bird cope with this, without leaving – and therefore possibly losing – its favourite spot on the crowded cliff?  During our visit to Sumburgh Head on Shetland we were pleased to see a puffin demonstrate how it’s done.

We’d been watching the bird for a while.  It was standing motionless on scrubby grass close to the cliff edge, staring out at the ocean as if deep in thought.  Finally, it seemed, the puffin reached a decision. 

The bird shuffled around until its head was facing inland and its tail out to sea.  It then engaged reverse gear and inched gingerly backwards.  At last, teetering on the very edge of the cliff, just inches from disaster, it dipped its head, raised its backside into the air and casually did the business. 

Except for its bill a puffin’s face is unmoveable, an inscrutable mask.  But I’m sure I could detect in that bird’s eye a mischievous twinkle, the barest hint of smug satisfaction.  I swear the puffin was quietly rejoicing in a job well done as it waddled away from the cliff edge, turned and resumed its previous position to stare serenely out to sea.

It was a fine performance, and Mrs P’s photo captures for posterity the exact moment when the foul deed was done.  But spare a thought, if you will, for the poor fulmars and guillemots nesting on the cliffs below without a care in the world, unaware that just a second or two later they’d be showered in puffin poo, courtesy of the upstairs neighbour from hell.


  1. tanjabrittonwriter · August 28, 2019

    The question of how puffins do their business had kept me awake at night. Thanks to you and your wife, I will be able to enjoy restful sleep again. Thank you!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Lisa Coleman · December 1, 2019

    Well written. You had me laughing out loud. Puffins are life birds for me. I need to get to New Zealand. It is #4 on my overseas bucket list. I’ve only ever been out of the US once to Mexico & I didn’t need a passport. We are starting to travel more because I want to see new places & new birds I’ve only seen on television or in magazines or on your blog. I’ve gotten acquainted with many a bird on instagram as well. Thanks for sharing your adventures. I have to catch up.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Platypus Man · December 2, 2019

      Thank you, glad you liked the post as it was fun to write! So, tell me, what are numbers 1, 2 and 3 on your bucket list?

      Liked by 1 person

      • Lisa Coleman · December 2, 2019

        Ireland, Scotland & Australia. Any pointers on specific areas to visit when eventually get to those destinations and the best times to go?

        Liked by 1 person

      • Platypus Man · December 2, 2019

        Hi Lisa
        We know Scotland well, so could help with that. All we know of Australia are the areas covered in my Tasmania blog, so could provide more detail about the places we went to. But there’s lots more to birding in Australia, particularly in Queensland and Northern Territories, about which we know nothing. Sadly have never been to Ireland. If you want to follow up on anything it might be easier to do it by email. If you go to my NZ blog there’s a form to “Contact the Platypus Man” – fill it in and hopefully it will open a channel?

        Liked by 1 person

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