Remember ‘Happy Feet 2’ and ‘The Mighty Sven’? The Atlantic Puffin who was mistaken for a penguin? You probably remember his wise words: “If you want it, you must will it. If you will it, it will be yours”!
Equally interesting in animated movies and in nature they are regarded as the cutest birds on Earth. Here are 32 interesting facts about puffins that every fan should know!
The puffins’ genus name, Fratercula, comes from the Latin for ‘little brother.’ The name refers to the sea bird’s black and white plumage, which was said to resemble the robes that monks once wore.
The word puffin is thought to be derived from the word ‘puff”’ which refers to swollen. And it is the puffin chick that contributes best to this name because of its round, puffed look.
Puffins have also been called ‘clown of the ocean’ and ‘sea parrot’ because of their clown-like facial markings and colorful beak (more like that of toucans).
Puffins belong to the Alcidae (Auk) family of seabirds. There are 4 species of puffins. They are Atlantic Puffin, Horned Puffin, Tufted Puffin, and Rhinoceros Auklet.
The Atlantic Puffin (formerly Common Puffin) lives in the North Atlantic Ocean. It is the smallest of the puffins and is readily separated from the similar Horned Puffin by the steel-blue triangle at the base of its beak.
The Horned Puffin is easily distinguished by its mostly yellow bill with orange tip (missing blue/grey section towards the base of bill). The Horned Puffin receives its name from the horny projections that extend above its eyes.
The Tufted Puffin is the largest puffin and is characterized by long, straw-colored feathers that extend back from its crown during the mating season.
The Rhinoceros Auklet differs noticeably in outward appearance from the other three species of puffin (which accounts for its misnaming), but this sooty-brown bird is anatomically still a puffin.
Puffins are usually 10 inches tall (18 cm), which is about the height of a quart jug of milk. The puffin weighs about 500 grams, similar to a can of coke.
Adult puffins mostly eat small fish, such as sand eels, herring, hake, and capelin.
Puffin diets vary from colony to colony because of the variety of fish around the breeding islands.
The young puffins are usually fed fish by their parents. Parents carry fish in their bills and either drop them on the burrow floor or pass them to the chick.
Males are usually slightly larger than females, which is most noticeable only when a pair is standing together.
Puffins can carry several fish back to their nest at a time. The average catch is around 10 fish per trip but the record in Britain is a whopping 62 fish at once!
A puffin can dive for up to a minute but most dives usually last 20 to 30 seconds. While underwater, the puffin swims by using its wings to push it along under the water almost as if it were flying, while using its feet as a rudder.
A puffin can fly 48 to 55 mph (77 to 88 km/hr). The puffin beats its wings rapidly to achieve this speed reaching up to 400 beats a minute.
Most puffins do not breed until they are 5 years old. The earliest a puffin may breed is at age 3 but this is only known about from zoos.
Puffins live a long time and use their pre-breeding years to learn about feeding places, choosing a mate, and nest sites. They do bond as pairs.
Puffins often live 20 years or more. The oldest known puffin lived to be 36 years.
They dig their burrows using their bills and feet. Puffins prefer to make their burrows in the earth or between rocks on steep sea cliffs so predators cannot easily reach them.
Puffins typically lay 1 egg per year. They usually keep the same mate every season and use the same burrow as in previous years.
During winter, the bills and feet of puffins fade to dull shades of their summer colors. Every spring their beaks and feet turn a colorful orange in preparation for the breeding season.
Puffins use body movements to communicate in a variety of situations. In mating and courtship, the puffins will pair up before they come onto the island from the ocean. Once they are on land, the pair may perform billing, a behaviour where puffins rub their beaks together. This display often draws a crowd of puffins to share in the excitement.
They make loud growling calls usually from underground which sounds like a muffled chainsaw. The chicks “peep” for food from parents.
Puffins breed in colonies from April to August and over-winter from August to early spring on the open ocean far from land.
Puffins tend to disperse widely during this time and as a result, it is difficult for scientists to learn about this aspect of their life.
Scientists are unsure how puffins find their way home and are still learning how birds migrate.
Puffins are wonderfully adapted to spend months at sea. They have waterproof feathers, the ability to drink saltwater, and catch food.
The greatest natural predator of the puffin is the Great Black-backed Gull. This gull can catch adult puffins in mid-air.
Humans have had a very negative effect on puffins in the past. Today, there are threats on land and at sea like over-fishing, over-hunting, oil spilled by tankers, drilling operations, and uncontrolled tourism.
Puffins are not endangered but they are threatened by human activities and are rare in many areas where they were once abundant.
Iceland is home to more than half of the world’s puffin population, and its Vestmannaeyjar archipelago hosts the country’s largest puffin colony.
Do you have any interesting or fun facts about puffins that we’ve missed? Share them here in the comments section below!