Puffins are popular seabirds adored not just by adults but also by children. These creatures are not hard to miss because of the vibrant colours on their body. If you are a birder or a nature enthusiast, seeing them is a must!
Want to learn more about these fascinating seabirds? Below are some interesting puffin facts that would make you appreciate them more.
1. Puffin, Fratercula arctica, are seabirds that belong to the Alcidae or Auk family just like razorbills and guillemots. There are four species of puffin: Atlantic puffin, tufted puffin, horned puffin and the rhinoceros auklet.
The Atlantic puffin is the smallest, while the biggest is the tufted puffin. The crown of the tufted puffin displays protruding straw-like feathers during the breeding season. The Atlantic puffin and the horned puffin are the most similar in terms of appearance, but the former has a blue triangle at the base of its bill. The horned puffin’s beak is predominantly yellow but with an orange tip. Its name is derived from the horn-like markings above its eyes. The rhinoceros auklet is the most different of the four in terms of appearance. Its most distinguishing feature is a pale knob at the base of the upper mandible that protrudes upward.
2. Why are puffins named puffins? It was inspired by puffin chicks because they look swollen or ‘puffed’, hence the name. Their ball-like appearance is due to the thick feather covering their body. The dense covering helps keep the chick warm which is highly helpful when the parents are away to hunt for food.
3. Puffins spend most of their lives at sea. They mainly feed on fish like sandeels and herring. Sometimes, they feed on crustaceans when fish supply is scarce. Puffin chicks eat fish, too. Their parents fetch the food for them using their large, triangular beaks which can hold up to 12 small fish.
4. According to the RSPB, there are 580, 000 puffins breeding pairs in the UK. If you wish to see these colourful birds, the recommended time to go is between March to July. During this period, puffins return to their breeding colony. One the best places in the UK to see puffins is at the South Stack Cliffs Nature Reserve in Anglesey. The other places in Britain for puffin-watching are Shetland and Orkney Islands, Skomer Island and Bempton Cliffs.
5. These seabirds are excellent flyers and swimmers. When flying, they typically maintain an altitude of 9 meters. Thanks to their extraordinary wings which flap 400 beats per minute, puffins can fly at a maximum speed of 88 kilometres per hour. Meanwhile, they can reach a depth of 60 metres underwater. They rely on their wings and webbed feet when swimming.
6. Some people often mistake puffins for penguins, while others think that they are related. Puffins are not penguins. While they are both birds, they are not closely related. Their similarity is just limited to their plumage which is a combination of black and white.
7. They are sometimes called “clowns of the sea” and “sea parrots” because of the colourful markings on their faces, particularly their beaks and around their eyes. The outer sheath of their bill sports a combination of colours like blue, yellow, red and orange. They also have black and red markings around their eyes. Furthermore, their legs are a bright shade of orange.
8. Puffin beaks are not colourful all year round. The technicolour beaks change to dull grey or black during winter. But they return in spring which is also the breeding season of puffins. This is why experts say that the colourful markings on these beaks are meant for their mates.
9. These colourful birds mate with the same partner throughout their lifetime. When on land, a pair of puffin may engage in billing. This courtship or mating behaviour involves the rubbing or clasping of bills.
10. A pair of puffins works together in preparing for the arrival of a chick as well as in caring for it. They dig a burrow, about 60 to 90 centimetres, which serves as the family’s home. A nest made up of grass and feathers is built at the back or end of this burrow. A female puffin only lays one egg each year. This egg needs to be incubated for 36 to 60 days, depending on the puffin species, and the parents take turns doing this during the entire period.
11. Baby puffins are called chicks and informally referred to as ‘pufflings’. Puffin chicks consume a lot of food, forcing a parent to dive at least 276 times per day. Pufflings stay in their burrows for 45 days. When they leave the island, they stay at sea for at least five years. They only return to the island where they were born when they are ready to become parents themselves. Those in the wild usually start breeding at the age of five, while those in captivity begin at three.
12. Puffins have long lives; they can live for 20 years or more. Their main predator is the great black-backed gulls which tend to take them from the ground or mid-flight. Meanwhile, herring gulls pursue puffins to steal the fish they have on their beaks.
Indeed, puffins are very interesting creatures. Generations after you deserve to see these beautiful seabirds, too. Hence, you must help ensure that they do not go extinct. While puffins are not considered endangered species, their number is declining due to human activities like overfishing and pollution. These things need to stop for puffin population to thrive and for future generations to meet these fascinating seabirds.
Puffins photo by USFWS Headquarters
Tufted Puffin photo by Kirt Edblom
Puffin with fish photo by fveronesi1
Puffin flying photo by fveronesi1
Puffin nesting area photo by shankar s.