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Discovering the Atlantic Puffin: The Clown of the Sea

June 21, 2024

If you’ve ever seen a bird that looks like it flew out of a cartoon, you’ve likely met the Atlantic puffin. With its colorful beak, striking black and white feathers, and comical walk, the puffin is one of the most charming seabirds around. Let’s dive into what makes this little bird so special.

Who Are the Atlantic Puffins?

Atlantic puffins are small seabirds that live in the North Atlantic Ocean. They’re about 10 inches tall and have a wingspan of up to 24 inches. These birds are known for their distinctive looks: a bright orange beak that stands out against their black and white feathers, and orange feet that match their beak. With their goofy faces and awkwardness on land, they are sometimes called “clowns of the sea.”

Life at Sea

Puffins spend about nine months a year at sea, only coming to land to breed. They live a solitary life while out in the ocean, spending their days bobbing at the surface, preening their feathers, and diving for fish. They’re excellent swimmers, using their wings to “fly” underwater and catch fish. They can dive up to 200 feet and stay underwater for up to a minute. Their big beaks are made for holding fish, and they’ll routinely stack up to 12 fish in their beaks at a time!

Home is Where the Burrow Is

Every spring, puffins return to the same breeding colonies, usually on cliffs or rocky islands. On land, they’re quite social, forming large colonies. They dig burrows or find crevices in rocks to lay their single egg. Both parents take turns incubating the egg and, once it hatches, feeding the chick. After about six weeks, the chick is ready to leave the nest and head out to sea.

Puffin Populations

The largest colonies of Atlantic puffins are found in Iceland, Norway, Greenland, and the British Isles. In the United States, they are found on Maine’s coastal islands. Sadly, their populations are declining in some areas due to overfishing, climate change, and pollution. Conservation efforts are crucial to protect these birds and their habitats.

Fun Puffin Facts

  • Fab Flyers: Puffins can flap their wings up to 400 times per minute and fly at speeds of 50 miles per hour.
  • Pint-Sized Puffins: Puffin chicks are called pufflings.
  • Longevity: Puffins can live up to 20 years in the wild and they mate for life.
  • Sealife: Puffins can drink sea water! They have special salt glands above their beaks that filter excess salt from their blood.