Puffin patrol

Louis Power
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Witless Bay youths save baby puffins from becoming roadkill

Dead baby puffins are an all-too-common sight on the roads of Witless Bay at this time of year, so local youths have teamed up with a wildlife enthusiast to help save them.

The provincial bird's young leave Gull Island under the cover of night for a few weeks each summer to escape being killed by gulls, beginning in mid-August. Pufflings usually remain at sea after leaving the nest, but from the island, they are attracted to the town's lights, and in the dark they are often killed by motorists.

Matthew McGrath releases a rescued puffins Juergen Schau looks on. Matthew, 14, is part of a group of youth working to save baby puffins from being killed on the highways of Whitless Bay. - Photo by Laura Power/The Telegram

Dead baby puffins are an all-too-common sight on the roads of Witless Bay at this time of year, so local youths have teamed up with a wildlife enthusiast to help save them.

The provincial bird's young leave Gull Island under the cover of night for a few weeks each summer to escape being killed by gulls, beginning in mid-August. Pufflings usually remain at sea after leaving the nest, but from the island, they are attracted to the town's lights, and in the dark they are often killed by motorists.

Juergen Schau, a German film consultant and wildlife enthusiast, has toured the world trying to convince whale hunters to become whale watchers. He has also been vacationing annually in Witless Bay for 12 years, and said he felt the need to help save the young birds during his stay in Newfoundland last year.

So, with the help of local youths, he formed a puffin rescue group which saves as many as a dozen birds every night.

"It started for me five years ago. I saw them dead on the streets," said Schau. "I saw it is time for a change. We have to do something."

Schau and about half a dozen kids and teenagers head out every night at about 9:30 and catch stray pufflings in nets. In the morning, when they can safely swim out to sea by daylight, they release the birds at the shoreline.

Thirteen-year-old Blair Tobin, who has rescued more than 20 puffins since last summer, said he wants to do his part to help the birds live.

"It's a sin seeing them dead on the road," he said.

Joshua Tobin, 9, said drivers should watch out for the birds and be careful not to hit them.

"Stop and give them time to get off the road," he advised.

As an extra incentive to work with the group, Schau gives the kids $2 for every puffin they rescue. He said the parents are all aware of what their kids are doing, and the kids teach them what they learn about the birds.

"Because of the children, they get educated," said Schau.

He said puffins are used for free by people in the tourism industry - they're an attraction for boat tours, they're on T-shirts and they're widely used as a symbol - so people should show appreciation for the birds by helping them get back on the water.

"This is a gift of Mother Nature," he said. "To protect the chicks ... you need only a flashlight, a net and a box and a will of saving."

The group will continue its efforts for the next couple of weeks as the pufflings leave their nests on Gull Island.

lpower@thetelegram.com

Geographic location: Witless Bay, Gull Island, Newfoundland

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