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Atlantic Puffin Notecard



Atlantic Puffins (Fratercula arctica)

Colorful, comical, endearing: all describe this small but robust seabird, the Atlantic Puffin. Although it stands no more than 12 inches tall, the puffin spends the majority of its life on the open waters of the icy North Atlantic. Puffins are well equipped for a rugged existence with a thick layer of down, large webbed feet for quick propulsion and short, strong wings used in flight and underwater swimming. A row of tiny hooks on the inside of the upper bill allows the puffin to catch and hold upwards of 30 small fish at one time!

The Atlantic Puffin spends the winter months in the open oceans, as summer approaches, these usually solitary birds congregate in large numbers on remote islands to breed. They breed in Iceland, Norway, Greenland, Newfoundland and many North Atlantic Islands as far south as Maine in the west and the British Isles in the east. Mated pairs reunite at their nest site from the previous year. Puffins are energetic burrow-engineers and repairers. As they set about clearing and improving their burrow, one often stands at the entrance while the other excavates. In addition to nest building, puffins restore their bond by “billing”; the pair approach each other wagging their heads from side to side and then rattle their beaks together.

The female lays a single egg each year, both parents sharing incubation duties. Once the young puffin is fully fledged it leaves its burrow at night when predation risk is lowest, running, walking, and flapping its way to the ocean. It will not return to land for 2-3 years and does not congregate with others of its kind, being safest out at sea.

Because they concentrate in large numbers during their breeding season, puffins, along with many other seabirds, are vulnerable to disturbance of their breeding grounds. Several decades ago, the Atlantic Puffin had virtually disappeared from US coastlines but thanks to innovative work by ornithologists, puffin populations have been restored to many islands off the coast of Maine.

Artwork by Michael Digiorgio

Text by Gigi Marks