The Shiant Islands (Na h-Eileanan Seunta)
The Shiant Islands, situated in the Minch off the east coast of Lewis, have been designated a Special Protection Area for the conservation of wild birds. Huge numbers of puffins nest here and thousands of kittiwakes, guillemots, razorbills and fulmars nest among the basalt columns (like Staffa). In July 2009 Europe’s oldest puffin, aged 34, was discovered on the Shiant Islands, beating the previous record holder, an Icelandic bird, by one year. An ancient 32 year old puffin was also found which had, unbelieveably, originally been ringed on the same island in 1977.
As well as many seabirds the Shiant Islands are home to rare black “plague” rats (Rattus rattus) which arrived via a shipwreck. Cats were imported to control them but this proved impossible. Brown rats (Rattus norvegicus) also used to live on the Shiants but no evidence of them has been seen for many years now.It seems that the rats days are numbers, an eradication program is due to commence this summer (2016).
DID YOU KNOW?
Atlantic puffins have penguin-like colouring but they sport a colourful beak that has led some to dub them the "sea parrot". The beak fades to a drab grey during the winter and blooms with colour again in the spring.