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Interesting Facts About the Atlantic Puffin

Sucheta Pradhan
Atlantic Puffins are known for their colorful bills. Here are some interesting facts about these pretty seabirds.

Did you know?

Atlantic Puffins can carry several fish at a time in their triangular beaks. According to the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds, the highest recorded beakful, till date, is 62 fish.
The Atlantic Puffin, also known as Common Puffin or Sea Parrot, is a small seabird, known for its penguin-like plumage and colorful beak. Out of all the known species of puffins, it is the only species that is native to the Atlantic Ocean, hence the name. Scientifically called Fratercula arctica, the Atlantic Puffin belongs to the family Alcidae.
There are two related species of puffins, which are found in the north-eastern Pacific. These include, the Horned Puffin (Fratercula corniculata) and the Tufted Puffin (Fratercula cirrhata). Found abundantly in Canada, among other places, the Atlantic Puffin is the provincial bird for the Canadian province of Newfoundland and Labrador.


➦ An Atlantic Puffin is a small bird, about 28 to 30 cm in length, from the tip of its beak to the end of its tail.
➦ Despite its small size, it has a rather sturdy build. It has a thick neck and a blunt-ended tail.
➦ Bearing short wings that span between 47 to 63 cm, the bird can fly really fast, at a speed of about 55 mph, but only for a short period of time.
➦ Owing to their short wingspan, Atlantic Puffins have to flap their little wings about 300 to 400 times per minute.
➦ Unlike most other birds, wherein the females are larger than the males, the female Atlantic Puffins are smaller than their male counterparts. Apart from their size, males and females bear identical features.
➦ They have a black and white plumage similar to that of penguins. While the bird's upper body is covered in black feathers, its underpart is covered in white.
➦ The beak is the most distinguishing feature of the Atlantic Puffin. It is broad, triangular, and flattened from the sides. What attracts more attention, however, are the bright shades of red, gray, and yellow, which the bills possess.
➦ Owing to their colorful bills, perhaps, the birds are also known as sea parrots.
➦ The color of the legs of the Atlantic Puffin tends to change with the seasons. During winter, the legs are dull yellow in color, and become bright orange by the beginning of their breeding season in spring.
➦ The birds bear webbed feet, and have sharp, black claws.


➦ The Atlantic Puffin prefers cooler environment, and hence, is found across the cold waters of the North Atlantic Ocean.
➦ Large populations of Atlantic Puffins can be found along the coastal areas ranging from Denmark in the east, to Canada in the west, and from Norway in the north, to Spain in the south.
➦ The largest colony of Atlantic Puffins in the world is considered to be in Iceland, with about 60% of the bird's population nesting there.
➦ They spend most of their lives at sea. When on land, they nest either on rocky cliff tops or build underground burrows.


➦ While at sea, which the birds are for the most of the year, the Atlantic Puffins are believed to lead a solitary existence.
➦ Atlantic Puffins are excellent swimmers. They use their webbed feet to steer through the water, and their wings help them to fly through it.
➦ They can dive in the water to a depth of around 60 m, and can stay submerged for as long as two minutes.
➦ The birds return to the land, only during their breeding season, however, it is unclear how they navigate their way back to their breeding grounds.
➦ Interestingly, Atlantic Puffin colonies are highly organized units. Each large colony is further divided into several smaller sub-colonies, that are clearly marked with visible physical boundaries.
➦ The Atlantic Puffins are largely monogamous in nature, as they continue returning to the same burrow year after year.
➦ Studies indicate that, the Atlantic Puffins show their dominance by standing upright, walking in slow-motion, and jerking and gaping their heads. Submissive birds, however, lower their heads, and hold their bodies parallel to the ground.
➦ At night, the colonies become empty, as the birds choose to go to their fishing ground in order to roost. By doing this, they can hunt for their food early in the morning, and then return to the colonies in time.


➦ The breeding season of the Atlantic Puffins lasts throughout the warmer months of the year.
➦ During their breeding season, they return to land, and with the help of their mates, excavate their burrow at the same place as the previous year.
➦ Their burrow is built at least a few meters underground, so that their egg and the chick, can be protected from predators such as gulls.
➦ Atlantic Puffins reach their sexual maturity at the age of about four to five years.
➦ The female lays a single egg each year, and the couple takes turns to incubate it.
➦ The egg takes about six weeks to hatch, and the chick bears a brownish plumage. After about two months, the chick leaves the burrow and becomes independent.

Predators and Prey

➦ Atlantic Puffins are largely carnivorous in nature. A major part of their diet consists of fish. Sand eels seem to be their favorite food.
➦ Occasionally, they also consume marine mollusks, crustaceans, and polychaete worms.
➦ Studies show that, on an average, an Atlantic Puffin consumes about 40 small fish per day.
➦ Common predators that prey on Atlantic Puffins include gulls, hawks, skuas, and eagles.

Relationship with Humans

➦ Humans have been hunting Atlantic Puffins since long, for their meat. Added to this, the eggs of these birds are also a good source of protein.
➦ Their feathers were used by various coastal communities for making beds.
➦ In the recent past, colonies of these birds have been diminishing in numbers, owing to large-scale coastal development activities. This has resulted in the loss of breeding grounds, and thus, their natural habitat.
➦ The increase in fishing activities have also resulted in the reduction in availability of prey. This is further amplified with other issues, such as marine pollution, and so on.
Despite their dwindling numbers, the Atlantic Puffins are still listed as 'least concerned' in IUCN's Red List. This means that they are not under any threat of endangerment in the near future. The birds have been protected under various legislations, so that they can not only be saved but apt conservation measures can also be taken from time to time.