Helgoland (dpa) – The air on Lummenfelsen in Helgoland fills with the cries of birds. In the twilights on June evenings, the very loud, two-syllable calls stand out from the background noise.
It is the guillemot chicks that are preparing to jump from a height of about 40 meters with which they want to move from the cliffs to their parents into the sea.
Still one parent is sitting with a chick on a steep rocky surface, the other in bodies of water or tides—and they also stimulate their young to jump calls, says Jordsand Society Bird Sanctuary Director in Helgoland, Elmar Ballstaedt. A few days could pass before a chick dared to take the decisive step over the abyss. “It’s a fundamental decision,” says Balstedt. Since the nearly three-week-old animals cannot fly yet, there is no turning back on the rocks after jumping.
Not being able to fly is also why Ballstaedt and other men and women are now on board Lummenfelsen. Little birds always survive the jump. In terms of stature, bone structure and fat layer, it is designed to jump from such heights. And whether they climbed on the water or on the ground, there is no difference in these heights. “The dangerous thing is not the jump itself, but the way into the water,” says Palstedt.
There are hardly any predators lurking in Heligoland, but the wall that surrounds the western side of Heligoland for coastal protection reasons is an insurmountable obstacle for young guillemots. If they end up behind the wall instead of directly in the water, they need help getting to their parents. Along with an ornithology station in Helgoland, the Jordsand Association is always there in June to jump off the cliff to rescue chicks that can’t get to the water for their parents themselves.
As a sea bird, the guillemot is well adapted to life in the water. He only comes ashore to breed. Their colonies are found on steep coastal cliffs. In Germany they breed only in Heligoland. Here the female guillemot lays one egg – at a dizzying height on a narrow ledge directly on the bare rock. Chicks are cared for on the rock for about three weeks.
Then comes the time for the jump: because then the young animals have grown so large that the parents can no longer feed themselves and the chicks at the same time if they remain seated in the rock. Because the guillemot has to travel more and more distances to get enough food.
However, guillemots are one of the worst flyers in the bird kingdom, Ballstaedt explains. “This means that the small animal must eat, even if it cannot fly yet.” Young birds are not able to survive on their own. “They will be fed on the water for a few more weeks until they can take care of themselves.”
Eight people, divided into groups of two, descend on the cliff, carefully observing the rocks and water. They wear sturdy shoes and helmets – due to the danger of falling rocks. They do not turn on the headlights despite the poor lighting conditions so as not to scare away the birds in the rock. Except for them, no one is here, because there is a general ban on entering the nature reserve under the rock.
On top of the rock, many bird lovers – often equipped with cameras – gathered to catch a glimpse of the jumping chicks. Lummensprung on Germany’s only offshore island has developed into a tourist attraction in recent years. There are specials and expert tours to Lummenfelsen.
The assistants record each young man who jumps on the rock. The noise that sounds like a balloon full of water flowing on the ground makes you sit up and pay attention every time. It could be a small guillemot that landed on the ground instead of in the water. Before such a chick is placed on the wall so that it can make the last jump into the water, it is ringed and weighed. Wings and lower legs are also measured. The bird’s fitness level can be read from the data and also compared to that of previous years.
It only gets quieter on the rock after midnight. The high-pitched calls of the guillemot chicks and the deep voices of the mother animals gradually become silent. Bird conservationists pack their bags at night. They counted 65 chicks that dived in these hours. Twelve of them were shaved.