We're a little over a week away from the opening of Star Wars: The Last Jedi, the latest installment in the Star Wars franchise. While I've been diligently avoiding any major spoilers for the film, its been hard to miss the mania around Porgs--one of the new creatures that will make their debut in this movie.
As a portion of the movie was shot on the Irish island of Skellig Michael, providing the location of the planet -- where Luke Skywalker spent many years in exile before he was found at the end of Star Wars: The Force Awakens, one of the challenges the filmmakers had to deal with was the abundant seabird colonies. Species using the island for breeding habitat include the Atlantic Puffins (Fratercula arctica), Fulmars (Fulmarus glacialis), Arctic Terns (Sterna paradisaea), and Northern Gannets (Morus bassanus). Apparently, birds were frequently seen in the background of shots. Rather than trying to digitally remove them, they decided to go all in and use them as (minor???) characters in the film, now known as Porgs.
Based on the relatively scarce information released on them, Porgs appear to be based on the puffin, however, at least to my eyes, they cross taxonomic classes and have the face of an otter. Rian Johnson, the movie's director put out some additional details in a tweet a while back:
They are sea birds. Their coloring varies. Males are slightly larger than females. They can fly short distances. They're inquisitive.— Rian Johnson (@rianjohnson) September 13, 2017
The young are also apparently called porglets. I'm a little skeptical that they can fly well based on the size of their wings, but aerodynamics are one thing that don't always make sense in Star Wars. This short animation Disney put out over the summer shows that they are also a gregarious species and they appear to be as clumsy on the ground as their inspiration, the puffin. From this clip, as well as a brief appearance in a trailer, it seems Porgs can vocalize, while their real-life counterparts are silent except for a chainsaw-like growl when they are in their burrows.
One of the interesting things about this are the ecological impacts of filming at this location, as it is an important breeding site for puffins and the other seabirds that call the site home as well as a UNESCO World Heritage site. Apparently there was some controversy from the filming during the relatively short amount of time the island was in the The Force Awakens, as some of the bird species were still breeding at the site and disturbed by the activity. Additional precautions and measures were put in place for the sequel, but the long term effects of the use of the site are unknown at this time. An additional complicating influence will be increased tourism to the site, something the Irish government hopes island’s film appearance will help bring.