Very early in his career as a seabird biologist, Michael Brooke discovered the truth about puffins: ‘They are horrible to handle. The beak is strong and sharp, as are the claws. It is all but impossible to hold them in a way that leaves one’s hand safe from biting beak and scratching claws.’ So much for those tourist-pleasing ‘clowns of the sea’.
Brooke learned this useful lesson on an undergraduate expedition to the Shiant Isles, a name that will ring a bell with anyone who has read Adam Nicolson’s brilliant The Seabird’s Cry. Nicolson’s family owns these Hebridean islands, rich in puffins, razorbills and guillemots, and it was there that his passion for seabirds was born.