Atlantic Puffin

The Atlantic Puffin (also known as the Common Puffin) is one of the easily-recognizable birds that dwell in the waters and cliff-tops of the Atlantic Ocean. They are known for their strange coloration and interesting lifestyle, and are found in very large flocks, especially during the warmer months, when it’s time for them to breed.

Atlantic Puffin Scientific Classification

Animalia
Chordata
Aves
Charadriiformes
Alcidae
Fratercula
Fratercula arctica

Atlantic Puffin

Atlantic Puffin

Physical Description: How is their Appearance

Size: The length of these birds is 28 to 30 cm (11 to 12 in) from the bill tip to the tail. At wingspan, the length is 47 to 63 cm (19 to 25 in). As for sexual dimorphism, the males are slightly larger than the females.

Height: When they are on land, the stand at around 20 cm (8 in).

Weight: They weigh around 500 gm (around 17.5 oz).

Plumage/Feather Colors: Plumage has somewhat penguin-like color pattern. Crown, forehead, nape, wings and tail feathers are glossy pitch black. Around the neck and throat, there is a wide black collar.

Head: On both sides of the head, there is a pale grey and broad lozenge-shaped area, tapering to a point and meeting behind its neck.

Eyes: The head is shaped such that it creates two folds from the eye to each of the patches.

Bills/Beaks: Beaks are parrot-like, but much shorter and tapered, and deep orange in color.

Feet: Feet are orange and webbed like ducks.

Tail: The tail is short with a blunt end.

Lifespan

These birds have a long life. The average lifespan of in the wild is 383 months or almost 31 years, while the minimum lifespan is 20 years, the maximum recorded longevity is 33.8 years.

Atlantic Puffin Bird

Atlantic Puffin Bird

Common Puffin

Common Puffin

Distribution/Range

As the name suggests, the Atlantic puffins are spread along the coast of the Atlantic Ocean, from the Canadian Maritimes south to Maine. The bird is also found in Northern Europe. However, migration takes place during winter months, when they move far offshore in deep ocean waters.

Habitat: Where Do Atlantic Puffins Live

During the breeding and nesting season they are found in the rocky coasts, whereas during non-breeding season, they are found on the open ocean.

Atlantic Puffin Habitat

Atlantic Puffin Habitat

Classification of Species

Divided only by differences in size, the Atlantic Puffins have 3 subspecies:

  1. Fratercula arctica arctica
  2. Fratercula arctica grabae
  3. Fratercula arctica naumanni

The length of their body, wings and beak all increase at higher latitudes.

Atlantic Puffin Pictures

Atlantic Puffin Pictures

Behavior

The puffins are colonial birds, and highly sociable creatures like most of the other birds from the Auk family. They primarily live on cliff tops’ grassy fields together in large colonies of up to 2 million individuals. Flocking together, they voice gruff calls that sound somewhat like ‘arrr-uh’.

Not just on land, even when they are out in the waters, they ensure that they flock out in large groups forming ‘rafts’ so as to stay protected from various predators. Though these birds are quite agile when in the air, their skills are at their best when in water. They are excellent swimmers, and would usually forage at around 50-60 feet of surface. However, they can also dive to about 200 feet, holding their breath for up to 2 minutes. Though, an average dive usually lasts for about 20 seconds.

Video: Behavior of the Atlantic Puffins – Hunting, Flying, Mating

Atlantic Puffins swim by flapping their wings, which looks very similar to flying, while they use their feet to steer forward. When not swimming, they rest on the waves. They have an extraordinary circulatory system in their feet, helping them cope with cold temperatures.

In the winter season, the birds spend most of their time foraging in the sea and would even go many miles away from land, after which they would return back to their own cliffs during the next climate change (in the summer months) for breeding. This makes it difficult for the researchers to stay updated about their status. Upon their return, these birds would often make ‘comical’ displays, including ritualized walking around the entrance of their burrows, knocking the bill, etc.

Atlantic Puffin Images

Atlantic Puffin Images

Atlantic Puffin Nest

Atlantic Puffin Nest

Diet: What Do Atlantic Puffins Eat

These birds are carnivores, and mostly thrive on fish and crustaceans. The food that they bring to their nestlings is primarily small fish, especially herring, capelin, sand lance, cods, eels (like sand eels), etc. Crustaceans may include euphausiid shrimp, mysids, copepods, as well as mollusks and marine worms.

The digestive system of the puffins is such that, they can rapidly digest foods. They take about 6 hours to digest a sand eel. However, not much is known about the winter diets of the adults.

Reproduction and Life Cycle

During the mating season, the colors on the bills of the puffins, which faded in the winter months, start to brighten. Researchers believe that, this helps the birds find their mates. The mating season begins in the springtime and continues till summer.

The puffins, who spend the maximum time of the year in the seas, return to land prior to mating. Once the come back to land, the pairs reunite within the colony. Some couples display a mating ritual termed as ‘billing’. During billing, the couple would rub each other’s beaks together during or prior to mating. This act often draws an excited crowd of other puffins to come and watch them play.

Atlantic Puffin Eggs

Atlantic Puffin Eggs

These birds either use old or deserted burrows (like rabbit burrows), or make new ones, which they built about 3 feet in rocky cliffs, and is made either between the rocks, or in the soil. Often, a particular couple will return to the same burrow every year. Inside the burrow, the parent birds build their nest made of seaweeds, grasses, and feathers. The female lays one single egg. Both the father and the mother would take turn incubating the egg for around 40 days.

Video: Baby Puffin Hatches Out from Egg

As the chick hatch, the parents will take turn bringing fish from the sea to feed them several times a day. Atlantic puffins are able to carry several fish, approximately 10, in between their beaks at one time.

The hatchling stays inside the burrow until it attains the ability to fly. After about 45 days, the juvenile fledgling leaves the nest and spends time of almost 3-5 years at the sea learning about the places to find food, and the ways to choose mate.

Baby Atlantic Puffin

Baby Atlantic Puffin

Atlantic Puffin Chick

Atlantic Puffin Chick

Adaptations

  1. With their waterproof feathers, these birds are specially adapted to living on the open sea. It also helps them stay warm while floating on or swimming in the ocean waters.
  2. This bird has the ability to supplement their meals by drinking salty sea water.
  3. The shape of the body is compact, along with the strong wings and webbed feet that help them move rapidly under water.
  4. The bills of the Atlantic puffin are serrated, helping them grip fish firmly.
  5. There is an extra bone in the jaw that also prevents fish at the tip from falling out. The beak ridges also help them catching fish keeping their mouth open, without losing any in the process of foraging.

Predators

Gulls, hawks, eagles and foxes are the most common land predators of both the adult and the young Atlantic Puffin. Cats and dogs also prey upon them, when they are close to human habitation, while rats can also target their eggs. In the sea, large gulls and skuas are their common enemies.

Atlantic Puffin Swimming

Atlantic Puffin Swimming

Atlantic Puffin Flying

Atlantic Puffin Flying

Conservation Status

The Atlantic Puffin is not an endangered species as of now, however, with a gradual decline in population, they fall under the ‘threatened’ category. The IUCN 3.1 has categorized them under the ‘VU’ (Vulnerable) species list.

Interesting Facts

  • The Atlantic Puffins have funny nicknames like the ‘sea parrot’, because of their facial similarity with the parrot species, or the ‘clown of the sea’, since they have a very colorful and comical appearance.
  • When in flight, this water bird can flap their wings very rapidly, which can be up to 400 beats per minute, helping them gain a speed of about 88 km/h (55mph).
  • Unfortunately, these birds have also been serving humans as table bird, while their eggs are also being consumed by them.
  • The Atlantic Puffin is the only member of the puffin family that is native to the Atlantic Ocean (with the other two related species, the horned puffin and the tufted puffin, being found in the northeastern Pacific Ocean).
  • This puffin has been recorded to be holding 83 sand eels at one time in between the beaks.
  • The Atlantic Puffin is the official bird symbol of the Canadian province of Newfoundland and Labrador.
  • The young Atlantic Puffins would use a specific toilet area towards the entrance of their burrows, away from the nest, in order to stay clean.
Atlantic Puffins

Atlantic Puffins


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