Atlantic Puffin (Fratercula arctica)


Class: Aves
Order: Charadriifomes
Family:    Alcidae
Size:    Length: 10 to 13.5 inches (25 to 34 cm)   Wingspan: 21 to 24 inches (53 to 61 cm)
Weight: 17 ounces (500 g)
Diet: Sand eels, small fish, molluscs and sometimes crustaceans
Distribution: Islands around Iceland, Norway, the Faeroe Islands, British Isles, and eastern Canada
Young:  1 chick once a year
Animal Predators:  Great black-backed gulls, rats, cats, dogs and foxes
IUCN Status: No special status
Terms: Young: Puffling or chick
Lifespan: Average 20 years, oldest recorded was 29 years



·        Puffins belong to the family of birds called auks.

·        The Atlantic puffin is one of four species of puffins and is the only one that lives on the North Atlantic Ocean.

·        In 1992 it became the official bird of Newfoundland and Labrador.

·        Puffins are nicknamed “parrots of the sea” because of their colourful beaks.

·        Puffins have a very unusual call which sounds like a chainsaw. 

·        The scientific name Fratercula arctica means “little brother of the north.”



Puffins are short, stocky birds with orange feet and legs. The upper part of their body is black and their undersides are white. Their bill resembles those of parrots, and are brightly coloured during mating season. After mating season, however, their brightly coloured beak and legs begin to fade.  



Puffins live by the North Atlantic and Arctic oceans. 


Feeding Habits

Puffins’ diets consist primarily of sand eels, although they are also known to eat other small fish such as herring, hake and capelin. They also sometimes eat molluscs or crustaceans.



Puffins mate for life and have one chick per year. The female lays a single white, brown-spotted egg between June and July. Both the male and female incubate the egg, not by sitting on it, but by sitting beside it and stretching a wing over it to keep it warm. In 39 to 43 days a gray, fluffy, down-covered chick (also known as a puffling) is hatched. The parents carry five to 20 tiny fish to the burrow as many as 10 times a day to feed the chick. The puffling stays within the burrow, well back from the entrance to be safe from predators such as seagulls, for about six weeks. Although it was once reported that the adults left the puffling alone once it reached six weeks to fend for itself, this is not true—the parents take care of the puffling until it is capable of making its way to the sea, where it will begin to catch its own food. It grows the necessary feathers in order to be able to fly by two months of age. Puffins do not mate until they are five years of age.



Puffins are social and gather together in colonies. They are curious and tame animals. They spend almost all their time at sea, landing on islands only in the spring to dig a burrow and lay an egg. Once ashore, they prepare the nest by digging a burrow in the soil using their beaks and their webbed feet. The nest is only used to keep their young safe and once the chick is able to fend for itself, the nest is not used until the next year, when the couple return to it the next spring.  



Although there are about 15 million puffins in the world, at one time they were nearly extinct in the United States due to overhunting. By 1908, there were only four left south of the Canadian border, on Matinicus Rock. Local lighthouse keepers actively protected these last four. Puffin hunting was finally outlawed in the U.S., and there are now approximately 300 puffins in that location. Because of the unique beauty of the puffins, many people travel to Newfoundland expressly to see them.



Atlantic Puffin Wildlife Fact File, IM Pub, US