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Rathlin Island- the Place for Puffins!

Posted on April 14, 2016 @ 11:02 AM in Walking

Everybody loves puffins! The ‘clown of the sea’ is unmistakable with its black back and white underparts, black head with large pale cheeks and a tall, flattened, brightly-coloured bill. Although most people don’t realise that these trademark bills are only for showing off during breeding season and they sport a much duller beak during winter!

Puffins RSPB

For most of the year, puffins bob about at sea, returning to land in April. Most puffins start breeding when they are five years old and often live for more than 20 years. Some young, inexperienced birds may change mates after breeding failures but most will mate with the same partner for many years.

Rathlin Island, which lies just six miles off the north coast of Northern Ireland and is accessible by ferry from Ballycastle, Co. Antrim, is home to one of the UK’s largest seabird colonies, including hundreds of puffins.

puffins rathlin

Rathlin West Seabird Centre (Andy Hay); Puffin with sandeels (Chris Gomersall)

During the summer these comical creatures share the cliffs at the island’s west lighthouse with thousands of other seabirds, from kittiwakes to fulmars, but they are undoubtedly the star of the show.

Every year visitors from all around the world make the journey to Rathlin and the West Light Seabird Centre, which is run by RSPB NI, to enjoy stunning views of these birds. As well as the visual spectacle, the sound and smell is pretty crazy too! Between April and July the birds are hard at work raising their young (which are known as ‘pufflings’) and by August, the puffins and their charges are back off to sea.

cliffs rathlin

Puffin and Common Guillemot on Rathlin (Andy Hay); Cliff Stacks beside the Seabird Centre

With Puffin season here now is the time to pay a visit to Rathlin where as well as enjoying close-up views of the wonderful wildlife you’ll also have the opportunity to explore the recently renovated Seabird Centre and access the ‘upside down’ lighthouse. Situated at the heart of the colony, it’s a spectacular feat of engineering, clinging to the cliff face with the lantern gleaming red at its foot. Along with 11 other lighthouses around the Irish coast, Rathlin West Light is now part of the Great Lighthouses of Ireland trail.

Opening hours of The Rathlin West Light Seabird Centre vary, check before travelling by calling 028 9049 1547 or contact RSPBNI via their social channels - Facebook or Twitter.

is open from 10am until 5pm every day until the end of September and can be accessed via the Rathlin Trail. Admission is free for RSPB members, £5 for adults and £2.50 for children. Please note that while the main visitor centre is accessible, there is an 89 step descent to the viewing platform and a similar number of steps down through the lighthouse.

Rathlin Seabird Centre

Upsidedown Lighthouse; Rathlin West Light Seabird Centre

For more information about the Seabird Centre visit www.rspb.org.uk/rathlinisland.

Don’t forget there’s a lot more of the island to explore too! For keen walkers, I’d recommend taking on the Roonivoolin trail on the southern arm of the island. This ramble through the RSPB NI nature reserve is home to a rich variety of birds and wildlife, from common blue butterflies to wildflowers, soaring birds of prey to Northern Ireland’s only family of chough.  

wildlife rathlin

Clockwise from top left; View from the Roonivoolin trail, Guillemot. (Andy Hay);  Kittiwake pair (Andy Hay)

Visit WalkNI for a full list of walk trails on Rathlin.

Amy Colvin
Amy Colvin  Media and Events Officer, RSPB Northern Ireland

Originally from Fermanagh, Amy’s love of the outdoors stems from many Saturdays spent fishing on Lough Erne with her dad! In her role with RSPB NI, she regularly has the chance to visit some of Northern Ireland’s best spots for wildlife - Rathlin Island being a particular favourite.

1 comment has been posted in reply to this article

Posted by Raewyn on August 31, 2018 @ 12:01 PM

Visited Rathlin Island yesterday to see the Puffins but wasn't told they had gone. More information at and on the Ferry would be helpful. Bus refused to pick us up on the island. Not a good experience.

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