Experts sell the perfect dummy and lure puffins to Copelands
Puffins are breeding on the Copeland Islands for the first time - thanks to a small army of decoy birds.
The innovative project aimed at luring puffins to the vermin-free islands has finally reaped rewards in its fourth year, but is under threat due to funding cuts.
At least one pair of puffins bred on Lighthouse Island this summer, according to British Trust for Ornithology spokesman Shane Wolsey.
"We are really pleased. If we can keep the puffins coming back it will become a real tourist spot. People can come in and see them without disturbing them," he said.
"It could become a real attraction - people like puffins."
For the last four years BTO has been trying to lure puffins to breed on the Copelands by setting up a colony of dummy puffins and a sound system that broadcasts puffin sounds.
Unlike the current puffin strongholds of Rathlin Island and The Gobbins in Islandmagee, the Copelands, off the coast of the Ards Peninsula, are free of predators such as rats, mink, ferrets and foxes, which view the young pufflings as a tasty treat.
"We had good proof in the middle of July that the puffins are breeding, because we saw two birds that were carrying fish in," Shane said.
"That proves that they were carrying fish in for their youngsters. There's definitely one pair breeding and I suspect maybe two pairs. They have never bred on the Copelands before so it's quite an achievement."
Over the past 20 years puffins have declined in The Gobbins and Rathlin by around 50%, so wildlife experts were keen to found a new colony on the Copelands where they would be safe from terrestrial predators. The islands are also home to the world-famous Copeland Bird Observatory.
"Overall they have declined a lot in Northern Ireland, but they are one of the commonest seabirds in the North Atlantic.
"They're really common in Iceland and Greenland and 10% of the world population breeds in the UK and Ireland," Shane said. "There are plenty of puffins about on the Copelands now. It's a really good place for them."
But while the groundbreaking project is showing results, its funding for next year is under threat. Due to the harsh weather conditions, the sound system needs to be replaced before next year and unless the funding can be found the project is expected to suffer. The project is not allowed to apply to the Northern Ireland Challenge Fund, which is funded by the plastic bag levy, because BTO receives core funding from the Department of the Environment.
That money doesn't cover the puffin project, and replacing the equipment is expected to cost around £600.
An unmistakable bird with its black back and white underparts, and distinctive black head with large pale cheeks and a tall, flattened, brightly-coloured bill. Puffins spend a lot of their life in the open sea and come to land to breed in mid-March, where they will inhabit sheltered burrows on grassy cliff-tops.