(Genus, species:  Fratercula)

Atlantic Puffin

Used with permission. © Darren Guenther

When I was ten my family went on a road trip around the Maritimes; I was too young to remember much from the trip, but I distinctly remember a boat ride we took on the sea. I remember seeing puffins floating on top of the water in a group. Every once in a while a wave would rise and all the puffins would disappear... Only to reappear in all their glory seconds later, along with my youthful excitement at seeing the funny, little birds again. Not long ago I started the exciting task of drawing puffin colouring pages, and along the way I realized that when it comes to puffins I'm still a child! They are just so adorable!

There are three different species of puffins; atlantic puffins (fratercula arctica), horned puffins (fratercula corniculata), and tufted puffins (fratercula cirrhata). All puffin species are very similar; however, their beaks and facial features are the key to telling them apart.

Puffins can be found in many different areas. If you're ever in need, it is highly likely that you can find a puffin on the northern seas and coasts of North America.

Puffins are small seabirds, averaging at about 25cm in length.

Puffins are covered in waterproof feathers, allowing them to spend most of their time in the water. Puffins have a tuxedo-like appearance, with black feathered backs and white feathered tummies. Puffins faces are covered in black feathers, with large circles of white feathers surrounding their eyes. The feathers found underneath the wings of the puffin are often lighter grey or brown, rather than black.

The most striking feature of the puffins are their bright orange feet and beak. While being the most striking, the beak is also the most unique feature between the different puffin species:

Description - Atlantic Puffin: 

Atlantic Puffin

Dag Endre Opedal, flickr creative commons, CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

Interestingly, the beak of an atlantic puffin is actually a dull grey during the winter months and only turns to its brilliant orange when spring arrives.

The base of the beak has a small dark grey semi-circle, surrounded by a thin, pale yellow border. The rest of the beak is an orange-red color. A patch of bright orange where the beak and the face meet give the atlantic puffin the appearance of a smile.

Description - Horned Puffin: 

Horned Puffin

Don Henise, flickr creative commons, CC BY 2.0

The beak of the horned puffin curves further away from the face and has a hump on the top ridge of the beak. The bright orange tip of the beak is much smaller than the other two species and is flecked with grey streaks. The majority of the beak is ivory.

Description - Tufted Puffin: 

Tufted Puffin

Used with permission. © Darren Guenther

The beak of the tufted puffin is separated between two colors—orange and a khaki-brown. The orange tip of the beak contains white streaks with black lines in the center.

The largest defining feature of the tufted puffin is the flesh-colored feathers that swoop over the puffins head, giving the impression of eyebrows.

Canada Goose TracksTracks: 
Puffin footprints are webbed, like a duck print. Since the seabirds spend most of their lifetime on the water, it may be difficult to spot these little tracks.

Puffins eat small fish that they catch in the sea. They are small carnivores and prefer to eat fish such as herring, hake, and sand eels. Their webbed feet and waterproof feathers make them excellent divers, capable of travelling 60 meters under water.


Puffin Colony

UncleBucko, flickr creative commons, CC BY-NC 2.0

Puffins inhabit different regions based on season. All species of puffins choose to make the open sea their habitat for the majority of the year. Atlantic puffins stay in the Northern–you guessed it– Atlantic Region. Whereas tufted and horned puffins stay in the Northern Pacific Region.

During the mating season, which occurs between the months of April and August, the puffins gather along coasts and islands. Atlantic puffins gather around the Arctic fringes, Eastern Canada and occasionally the United States, and Western Europe. Tufted and horned puffins are more situated to coasts along the North Pacific region.

Regardless, puffins are seabirds, so they are never far from the water.


Puffin Pair

wplynn, flickr creative commons, CC BY-ND 2.0

Puffins begin their mating rituals in the spring and summer months like most animals. In order to find partners, colonies of puffins will settle on coasts and islands. Puffins often pair up with the same partner each spring and summer, meaning that a pair of puffins may be together for 20 years!

Once the puffins are paired off and ready to start their family, the pairs split off to build their burrows and begin incubating an egg.


Puffin Burrow

Paul Williams, flickr creative commons, CC BY-NC 2.0

The burrows are usually three feet deep, a depth made possible by the puffins sharp claws and beak. These burrows are built between rocks in grassy banks along the coasts; sometimes an abandoned burrow made by another small animal like a rabbit may be used by the puffins. If the puffins cannot find a suitable location for a burrow, they may also choose to nest in rocky crevices or under boulders.

The burrows are home to the nests that puffins build to protect and incubate their egg. The nests are formed from grass and feathers and are big enough to hold one egg.

Puffin Egg

Paul Gorbould, flickr creative commons, CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

That's right! A female puffin only lays one egg at a time. While the egg is incubating, which takes an average of 42 days, both the female and male puffin will take turns caring for the egg. After 36-45 days of incubation the egg will hatch and out will come an adorable little "puffling"!


Puffin Carrying Fish

Judith, flickr creative commons, CC BY-NC 2.0

After the pufflings hatch, they must learn to fly—a skill that usual takes about 45 days to master. While they are growing, the pufflings are fed and cared for by their parents. The inside of the beak is ribbed so that puffins can carry several fish at a time in order to feed their chick. It takes anywhere from 34-60 days before the pufflings are ready to feldge, which tends to be dependant on the species, area, and year.

The parent puffins leave their young shortly after the fledging period. Due to the synchronistic nature of the puffin mating season, all of the puffins tend to return to the open sea together—resulting in a large migration.

Once they can fly, pufflings will take to the open sea where they will remain until they are old enough to mate. Once they are 3-5 years old, the no-longer-pufflings will migrate back towards the coastal areas, join the colonies, and find their own partners.


Herring Gull

Anita Gould, flickr creative commons, CC BY-NC 2.0

Puffins tend to live for approximately 20 years as long as they can avoid predators. Black-billed and herring gulls are the harshest predator for puffins; capable of grabbing the small seabirds from the sky, water, or ground, it is hard for puffins to avoid the gulls.

Even more difficult to avoid are the human threats. Overfishing often affects the food cycle in their habitat and leaves the puffins without their main source of food. Furthermore, pollution can hurt the puffins tremendously. Impacts like oil spills can make the puffins sick and damage their feathers, leaving them unable to survive in the water, their main habitat.


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[Birds of Alberta]  [Canada Geese]  [Great Horned Owl]  [Merlin]  [Northern Goshawk]  [Pine Grosbeak]  [Puffin]  [Rock Dove]  [Ruffed Grouse]  [Sharp-tailed Grouse]  [Steller's Jay]  [Wild Turkey]  [Willow Ptarmigan]