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Touring Gull Island, Newfoundland's Puffin-covered Oasis

Over 350,000 puffins call this place home.

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Just south of St. John’s off the coast of Newfoundland, you’ll find Gull Island, a rocky mound covered in birds. But not just any birds—among the mix, you’ll find hundreds of thousands of puffins.

Luckily, there are plenty of tour boat services that will bring you as close as possible to the island (heads up: you can’t set foot on the actual island, though). But if you’re looking for a boat ride and a show, check out Gatherall’s.

On a recent trip, I not only saw my fill of adorable puffins, but the guides also shared some local songs with us and “Screeched In” a few of the passengers. (For the uninitiated, Screeching In is a series of somewhat hilarious tasks including kissing a fish that help prove you’re an honorary Newfoundlander.)

As you approach the island—a 20-minute boat ride each way, at most—you’ll find yourself surrounded by puffins in flight. They’re much smaller than you’d think, measuring in around six to eight inches, but you can’t miss their hilarious attempts at flight. While you’ll see their wings flapping as hard as can be, the bird’s belly eventually brings it back toward the surface of the water in a movement that more resembles skimming.

Puffins aren’t the only birds you’ll find here. All in all, there are more than 2.5 million seabirds nesting on the island, otherwise known as the Witless Bay Ecological Reserve. Kittiwakes, Razorbills, and Common Murres also call this place home.

It’s easiest to spot the puffins as they’re flying around the island. Once on land, they use their bills to burrow into the island to create a safer nesting space. That being said, look closely and you’ll be able to spot them socializing among the grass.

One thing to note is that puffins spend eight months of their life at sea—you won’t always see massive migrations living on the island. The best time to spot these birds is mid-May through mid-September, according to the Gatherall’s website. Most boat tours double as whale watching opportunities, so keep your eyes peeled to the horizon for blasts of water from breaching whales.

For more information about Gull Island and boat tours, check out Gatherall’s website.

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