Atlantic Puffins Fratercula arctica

Puffins are stocky, short-winged and short-tailed birds, with black upper parts and white or brownish-grey underparts. The head has a black cap, the face is mainly white, and the feet are orange-red. The bill appears large and colorful during the breeding season but is shed when the season ends, revealing a smaller and duller true bill beneath.

Puffins eat both fish and zooplankton, but feed their chicks primarily with small marine fish several times a day. The prey species of the Atlantic puffin include the sandeel, herring and capelin. Puffins are distinct in their ability to hold several (sometimes over a dozen) small fish at a time, crosswise in their bill, rather than regurgitating swallowed fish. This allows them to take longer foraging trips, since they can come back with more food energy for their chick than a bird that can only carry one fish at a time. This behavior is made possible by the unique hinging mechanism of their beak, which allows the upper and lower biting edges to meet at any of a number of angles.

Puffins in Action

The Life of a Puffin

Puffins form long-term pair bonds or relationships. The female lays a single egg, and both parents incubate the egg and feed the chick (or "puffling"). The incubating parent holds the egg against its brood patch with its wings. The chicks fledge at night. After fledging, the chicks spend the first few years of their lives at sea, returning to breed about five years later. Puffins in captivity have been known to breed as early as three years of age.

After breeding, all three puffin species winter at sea, usually far from coasts and often extending south of the breeding range.

Iceland is the home to most of the Atlantic puffins with about 10 million individuals. The largest single puffin colony in the world is in Westmann Isles, islands that belong to Iceland. In 2009, scientists estimated the number of nests to be 1.1 million,and number of individuals there is estimated to be up to 4 million.

Photos of Puffins doing Puffin Stuff.

A puffin out finding fish to eat.

Puffins are not penguins.

A puffin returning to its roost.

The Puffin's beautiful bill.


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