Fratercula arcticaAtlantic puffin

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Geographic Range

Greenland and Northern Canada, Gulf of St. Lawrence, Nova Scotia, Iceland, Northern Scandinavia, Northern Russia, Ireland, and NW coast of France.

Habitat

During the summer, common puffins reside on rocky cliffs of the North Atlantic and northern Europe. They winter far at sea on deep, icy water and are seldom seen within sight of land until March.

Physical Description

Sexes are alike--11 1/2 to 13 1/2 inches long with a wingspread of 21-24 inches. These puffins are short, stocky with upper parts black and undersides white. Their cheeks are white. They have large parrotlike, triangular shaped bills, which in the breeding season are bright orange with a yellow-bordered patch of blue at the rear half. After the breeding season, they lose some of their horny bill plates and molt as well. Winter plumage is similar but faces are largely dark.

  • Average mass
    490.5 g
    17.29 oz
    AnAge

Reproduction

During courtship, mates fight on the water, pairs bill and by fighting attract other pairs until the whole ceremony tapers off. They copulate on the water. Puffins nest in colonies and construct nests by burrowing into loose soil 2-4 feet deep at tops of cliffs or on islands. The males do most of the burrow digging, using their beaks and webbed feet. Males stay with the females through the breeding season, and the pairs often sit outside the burrow. Eggs are laid between June and July, and usually only one egg is laid per pair. Eggs are round, white, and often spotted with brown. Both parents incubate by tucking the egg under one wing and leaning their body against it. Incubation lasts around 42 days. The newly hatched are fed very small fish. About 40 days after the chicks have hatched, they are abandoned by the parents, who go to sea; the chicks fast for a week and then jump into the sea at dusk or night, diving for their own food until they can fly at about 49 days old.

  • Average eggs per season
    1
    AnAge
  • Average time to hatching
    42 days
    AnAge

Lifespan/Longevity

Behavior

Puffins walk erect, live in colonies and are very curious and tame. They are often attacked and killed by great black-backed gulls, rats, cats, dogs, and foxes, and are easily shot for food; thus populations near civilizations soon disappear. They utter low, purring noises in flight, low grunts and groans while nesting. They ride high on the water like ducks and must run across the surface of the water to become airborne.

Communication and Perception

Food Habits

Common puffins dive from the air or surface and use their wings to swim underwater where they catch small fish, mollusks, and crustaceans. They swallow their catch underwater unless they're feeding their young, at which time they can carry back as many as 30 fish at a time in their bills .

Economic Importance for Humans: Positive

Each year, half a million common puffins are netted for food and their feathers in Iceland and the Faroe Islands.

Conservation Status

---.

Contributors

Robin Street (author), University of Michigan-Ann Arbor, Ann Emily (author).

Glossary

Nearctic

living in the Nearctic biogeographic province, the northern part of the New World. This includes Greenland, the Canadian Arctic islands, and all of the North American as far south as the highlands of central Mexico.

World Map

Palearctic

living in the northern part of the Old World. In otherwords, Europe and Asia and northern Africa.

World Map

acoustic

uses sound to communicate

benthic

Referring to an animal that lives on or near the bottom of a body of water. Also an aquatic biome consisting of the ocean bottom below the pelagic and coastal zones. Bottom habitats in the very deepest oceans (below 9000 m) are sometimes referred to as the abyssal zone. see also oceanic vent.

bilateral symmetry

having body symmetry such that the animal can be divided in one plane into two mirror-image halves. Animals with bilateral symmetry have dorsal and ventral sides, as well as anterior and posterior ends. Synapomorphy of the Bilateria.

chemical

uses smells or other chemicals to communicate

coastal

the nearshore aquatic habitats near a coast, or shoreline.

endothermic

animals that use metabolically generated heat to regulate body temperature independently of ambient temperature. Endothermy is a synapomorphy of the Mammalia, although it may have arisen in a (now extinct) synapsid ancestor; the fossil record does not distinguish these possibilities. Convergent in birds.

iteroparous

offspring are produced in more than one group (litters, clutches, etc.) and across multiple seasons (or other periods hospitable to reproduction). Iteroparous animals must, by definition, survive over multiple seasons (or periodic condition changes).

motile

having the capacity to move from one place to another.

native range

the area in which the animal is naturally found, the region in which it is endemic.

oviparous

reproduction in which eggs are released by the female; development of offspring occurs outside the mother's body.

sexual

reproduction that includes combining the genetic contribution of two individuals, a male and a female

tactile

uses touch to communicate

visual

uses sight to communicate

References

Audubon Society Encyclopedia of North American Birds; Terres; Alfred A Knopf:New York 1980.