Kleptoparasitism on the Isle of May, Scotland

During July I was privileged to spend a week on the Isle of May,  a National Nature Reserve owned by Scottish Natural Heritage. The weather was typically mixed during my stay with periods of intense sunshine intermingled with drab grey skies and the occasional heavy rain shower. All of which made for exciting and varied photographic opportunities.

The puffins, for which the island is perhaps most well-known and certainly gain the majority of visitor attention, are regularly attacked by herring gulls and black backed gulls as they carry fish back to their burrows in which they feed their young, known as ‘pufflings’. Kleptoparsitism (parasitism by theft) is the term used to describe this behaviour. The puffins are physically assaulted so that they release their catch which is summarily consumed. Occasionally a black backed gull will predate a puffin, killing it.

Puffin (Fratercula arctica) caught whilst flying by a black backed gul in to attempt to steal its food. 

Puffin (Fratercula arctica) caught whilst flying by a black backed gul in to attempt to steal its food. 


When attacked on the ground the puffins attempt to escape as best they can either by running away or seeking refuge in a burrow.


The puffins can outrun the herring and black backed gulls and seek the refuge of their burrows.

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Herring gull and black backed gull fight on the Isle of May Scotland to assert dominance over an area with puffin burrows so that they can undertake kleptoparasitism of the puffins.