In Iceland puffins get help from humans who volunteer on the Puffling Patrol to ensure that the little birds can thrive. When baby puffins, known as pufflings, hatch they usually head to the sea from their nests on shore, but when bright lights are nearby they’ll go towards the light. To get these pufflings away from dangerous lit areas like roads, factories, or other human made structures volunteers escort the birds to the water. It’s adorable and helpful.
They’re part of the Puffling Patrol, a Heimaey volunteer brigade tasked with shepherding little puffins on their journey. Every year during the roughly monthlong fledging season, kids here get to stay up very late. On their own or with parents, on foot or by car, they roam the town peeking under parked vehicles, behind stacks of bins at the fish-processing plants, inside equipment jumbled at the harbor. The stranded young birds tend to take cover in tight spots. Flushing them out and catching them is the perfect job for nimble young humans. But the whole town joins in, even the police.
No one knows exactly when the tradition started. Lifelong resident Svavar Steingrímsson, 86, did it when he was young. He thinks the need arose when electric lights came to Heimaey in the early 1900s. Saving the young birds likely began as “a mix of sport and humanity,” Steingrímsson tells me in Icelandic translated by his grandson, Sindri Ólafsson. Also, he says, people probably wanted to sustain the population of what was then an important food source.