14 April 2016 by Ronan Gay
Puffins have long since held a special place in the hearts of ornithologists and nature lovers alike. With their ice-lolly coloured beaks and downcast eyes, they certainly invoke something of the sad clown. However, as they spend their winters living in the open ocean, a sighting of their distinctive black and white markings can be a rare gem. That’s why, come 14th April, holidays to Norway take on a special significance. On top of the usual escapes to towering fjords and still-wintery, northern playgrounds, would-be birdwatchers head to the coast to watch as hundreds of thousands – in some cases millions – of puffins descend on Norway’s crags. It’s such a reliable occurrence that the islanders have created a word for it – Lundkommardagen – which literally translates as ‘the day the puffins come’. More reliable, even, than the changing of the season, some Norwegians celebrate it as a quasi summer solstice.
On 14th April, approximately 200,000 puffins descend on Lovund
Where to see the phenomenon?
And, one of the best places to experience this for yourself is Lovund. As part of the outer reaches of Norway’s coastal fragment, it’s quiet enough to attract the puffins and close enough to visit. Indeed, a trip to the island is rewarding enough with its picturesque village the quiet foreground to an oversized tabletop slope that – over millennia of Altantic Ocean exposure – has been hewn and twisted into a jagged salute to the sea-spray. And, its green carpet – the island gets its name from Laufund, the Old Norse for ‘Leafland’ – has made it a perfect nesting ground for puffins. Making use of their long claws and beaks, they can dig almost up to a metre into the scree, using vegetation, rocks and feathers to line their nests. Once constructed, puffin partners will take it in turns to look after the egg and gather food as, on top of mating for life, the forward-thinking birds share parental responsibility.
However, visitors won’t be disappointed by all too happy families glued to their sofa nest. On arrival, some 200,000 puffins fill the skies with their playful dips and twirls and – if you’re lucky – you might be able to spot the puffin kiss whereby partners rub their beaks together in what’s known as ‘billing’. What’s more, as puffin beaks turn grey over winter, their return to land marks the reappearance of their orange flush as they seek to impress their mate. For the best vantage point, boat tours circle the island as much of the puffin colony chooses the island’s most inaccessible corners.
Puffin courtship is known as 'billing'. Once they have mated, puffins stay together for life.
And, for the even more intrepid, Gjesvæarstappan further up the coast borders on Norway’s northernmost tip and, come April 14th, is the otherwise uninhabited host for one million puffins. However, spring isn’t the only time of year that you can spot birdlife. Head to the Lofoten Islands – Norway’s vestigial northern jut – where arctic seabirds from white-billed divers to purple sandpipers shelter from harsh winters. Alternatively, combine birdlife with marine-life on a trip to nearby Andenes, home to Norway’s best whale watching opportunities.
Determined to visit Norway now? We don’t blame you – learn more about all your travel options here.