Annual rescue of pufflings — baby puffins — underway in Witless Bay

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Annual rescue of pufflings — baby puffins — underway in Witless Bay

A rescue group at a Newfoundland bird sanctuary has turned into something of a tourist attraction, with people from all over looking for the chance to rescue baby puffins — or "pufflings."

The Witless Bay Puffin & Petrel Patrol was founded by Juergen and Elfie Schau, who travel from Berlin every summer to help save the birds.

It was something they started doing after first visiting the area in 2004.

"We were walking down the roads and we saw several dead birds in the morning, and we wondered what happened," said Juergen Schau, recalling his first encounter with the puffins.

Pufflings, on their first trip away from their parent's nests, will venture out toward the ocean in search of food.

The night-blind birds will follow the light of the moon, but with increasing amounts of artificial lights in the area — like streetlights and headlights — they end up in lethal danger, often being hit by vehicles.

After much research, Juergen says he found that if the puffins were collected at night and released the next day, they'd have a much better chance of survival.

"Elfie and me at the beginning, we bought a little butterfly net, and a flashlight, and a glove, and then we saved the little birds who are standing where there is light," he said.

The two of them would keep the puffins in cases overnight, and then release them when it was safe for them in the morning.

Since the group was founded, it's become a bucket-list item for locals and tourists alike.

Emma Burton, Sarah Burton, Sue Dougherty and Jillian Smith, from Pennsylvania and Boston, are in Witless Bay this week for four nights of rescuing birds.

Dougherty read an article about puffins and pufflings a few years ago, and put rescuing one on her bucket list. This year, she brought her family to help.

"While we know it's better if we don't find puffins, we would like to rescue one," said Sarah Burton.

"I'm just here for an adventure and to find some birds," said Jillian Smith.

"We'll try to keep our excitement to a minimum and try to keep calm if we do find one, because I think that will be important for the birds."

The family was part of the 70 people who visited Long Pond Beach on Wednesday for the official launch of this year's patrol, and picked up nets and cases at O'Briens Whale Watching Tours to start the watch for another year.

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