Puffins are small seagoing birds that live in large colonies. They commonly nest on cliff sides, and dive for fish below the surface of the ocean. There are three different species of puffins, two on the west coast, and one on the east coast of the United States. These birds are adorned with bright colored beaks and feet. Read on to learn about the puffin.
Description of the Puffin
There are three species of puffins, all of which have similar appearances. They have black colored feathers, with white or brown underbellies. The tops of their heads are black, and the areas around their eyes, as well as their cheeks, are white. These birds have brightly colored beaks, ranging from orange, to yellow, and red. They are quite stock, with short wings and short tails.
Interesting Facts About the Puffin
Puffins are distinctive-looking birds, with charismatic colors and an adorably stocky build. These little creatures are incredibly well adapted, and highly interesting.
- Seabirds – These birds are truly at home in the sea. When they are not nesting on cliffs, they actually spend most of their time in the open ocean. To rest, they float on the surface of the water.
- Flying Penguins– Though they are not closely related, penguins and puffins have very similar hunting strategies. Both birds use their wings to “flap” underwater, allowing them to swim efficiently. The main difference is that puffins can fly, and penguins cannot!
- Deep Divers – Swimming well would be redundant if you couldn’t follow your prey when it dives away! Puffins can dive as far as 60 meters below the surface, that’s nearly 200 feet deep!
- Fab Flappers – To swim well underwater, these little swimmers must have short wings. Flying with such short wings requires lots of flapping. In fact, to stay aloft these little birds must flap their wings 400 times per minute. Don’t be too impressed… hummingbirds flap their wings 1,260 times per minute!
Habitat of the Puffin
These seagoing creatures live in habitats that are in close proximity to the ocean. In fact, they don’t even require land for most of their life. They return to land to build nests and rear chicks, and choose steep cliff faces to raise their young. Some species will dig tunnels to lay their eggs in. When they aren’t nesting on islands or cliffs, these birds are pelagic. This means that they live on the open ocean.
Distribution of the Puffin
Atlantic puffins are the only species that live on the east coast of the United States, and the north Atlantic Ocean. They can be found in Europe, Iceland, Greenland, the Faroe Islands, and Norway. They can also be found from northern Canada to the northern United States. The horned and tufted puffin species can be found in the North Pacific. Their ranges run from Siberia, Alaska, the coast of Canada, to the coast of California.
Diet of the Puffin
Puffins feed almost exclusively on fish. Adult birds will prey on small fish species and zooplankton, but feed their chicks on a diet of fish. Rather than regurgitating food for their chicks, they are capable of carrying well over a dozen fish per trip in their beaks! Some prey species include capelin, sand eel, herring, and squid.
Puffin and Human Interaction
Sadly, for decades these birds were hunted for their feathers, meat, and eggs. Large populations of puffins live in nesting colonies, allowing them to be wiped out in mass quantities. This caused drastic population decline during the 19th and 20th centuries. Today, these birds are still hunted in the Faroe Islands and Iceland. They are captured by placing nets close to their nesting cliffs, and the birds are trapped when they attempt to dive into the sea.
Puffins have not been domesticated in any way.
Does the Puffin Make a Good Pet
In most places, it is illegal to own a puffin as a pet. Even if it is legal, it is highly inadvisable. If you think fish smell, how do you think they smell when they are fully digested and shot out the back-end of a puffin?
In zoos, puffins thrive in habitats with lots of water for them to swim in. They need plenty of space to fly, and space to swim. Breeding birds must also be provided with cliff-like substrate to nest on. They are fed a diet similar to penguins and other seabirds. Some commonly fed items include squid, capelin, herring, smelt, and more.
Behavior of the Puffin
When puffins are not breeding, they spend their lives alone at sea. They give up this lonely life to reproduce, and congregate in huge numbers when they migrate to breeding grounds. Upon arrival at the cliffs, puffins will choose a mate, with whom they will remain until their chicks are fledged. Once they have raised their chicks, all the birds return to the sea and their solitary lifestyle.
Reproduction of the Puffin
Individual reproductive habits vary slightly based upon the species. Female puffins lay a single egg in a cliffside nest or tunnel. Both parents incubate the egg for approximately six weeks. Most chicks will learn to fly and leave the nest when they are around two months old. The puffin chicks will not be able to reproduce until they are at least three years old.