Icelandic Kids Save Befuddled Puffins

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"We saw the silhouette that looked like a little puffin and, sure enough, there he was, right in the middle of the parking lot. We jumped out and we got him," said Holm.

The following day all the birds that landed in "friendly hands" are transported to the seashore, pointed in the right direction, and given their flying orders. The kids seem to have a great time.

Holding the birds, with wings free and flapping, the idea is to cock your arm like a quarterback and throw the bird like a football, launching it into the air.

Some birds take flight immediately, while others land in the salty waters and take off from there.

National Dish?

What sort of impact all this has on the species as a whole is not known. The largest colonies of puffins in the world are found here in Iceland—roughly eight to ten million birds. They are not endangered and, apart from being a national symbol, they are also a national "dish."

Smoked or sauteed, puffin is featured on a lot of dinner menus around Heimaey.

It may seem a bit strange running around trying to save these creatures when, ultimately, they could end up as a main course. But according to Kristjan Egilsson, director of the Natural History Museum in Heimaey and a native who rehabilitates injured puffins, it is all perfectly normal.

"Maybe for you, maybe for foreigners this looks strange to eat such a nice bird as puffin, but this we have done for hundreds of years," said Egilsson.

Fortunately for the small, helpless, and confused pufflings, the annual search-and-rescue efforts are also tried and true—a custom passed from generation to generation. Whether it's overhand or underhand, thanks to the strong arms and big hearts of the children, stranded pufflings are getting a second chance.

If they survive, young puffins will spend two years on the open ocean before they return to the island to breed. But, for some reason, on the return leg they have no trouble keeping their bearings and all arrive at the same time.

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