Puffin (Fratercula arctica)

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Puffin pair greeting
IUCN Red List species status – Least Concern LEAST
CONCERN

Top facts

  • During the breeding season the puffin develops a distinctive colourful beak, but this becomes dull in the winter
  • Puffins spend most of the year at sea and only return to land once a year to breed
  • An extra bone in the puffin's jaw prevents fish at the tip from falling out
  • The puffin's bill is serrated to help carry fish, and it has been recorded holding 83 sand eels!
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Puffin fact file

Puffin description

KingdomAnimalia
PhylumChordata
ClassAves
OrderCharadriiformes
FamilyAlcidae
GenusFratercula (1)

The puffin (Fratercula arctica) is one of the UK's most well-loved and easily recognised birds. It has a comical appearance, with its parrot-like, large colourful bill, red and black markings around the eyes (4), large pale cheek patches and bright orange legs (2). Young puffins lack the large colourful beak (2). In winter, adults lose their bright bill, and both adults and young have dark cheeks (4). A deep 'arrr-uh' noise is produced, which can be heard emanating from puffin burrows (2).

Size
Length: 28-34 cm (2)
Wingspan: 50-60 cm (2)
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Puffin biology

Throughout the year, the diet consists mainly of various species of fish, particularly sand eels. Puffins dive beneath the surface of the water and swim using their wings, in pursuit of prey (4). If they are feeding their young, they fill their bill with fish and carry them back to the burrow (4).

For most of the year, puffins are out at sea, they return to land in order to breed. Just before the breeding season, the annual moult occurs; birds are flightless for a time after moulting, but they are still able to swim underwater, and can return to the breeding colonies between February and early April (5). Upon their return, comical displays can ensue, including bill-knocking and ritualised walking around the burrow entrance (4). New burrows may be made, or old ones utilised. A single egg is laid in a chamber at the end of the burrow in May. After an incubation period of up to 43 days, the chick hatches and remains inside the burrow for six weeks or so, after which time it becomes fully independent, dispersing out to sea (4).

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Puffin range

Occurs in and around the North Atlantic (4). In winter the puffin disperses over the open ocean reaching as far south as the Azores and Canary Islands (4).

You can view distribution information for this species at the National Biodiversity Network Gateway.

See this species on Google Earth.

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Puffin habitat

Puffins nest in large colonies on offshore islands and inaccessible cliffs with grassy slopes in which burrows can be excavated (5).

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Puffin status

The puffin is classified as Least Concern (LC) on the IUCN Red List (1). Receives general protection under the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981. Included in the Birds of Conservation Concern Amber List (medium conservation concern) (3).

IUCN Red List species status – Least Concern

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Puffin threats

Puffins are occasionally predated upon by great black-backed gulls and great skuas, as well as by rats and other mammalian ground predators (4). The greatest threats, however, are man-made; oil spills and over-fishing are both major potential threats to this endearing species (4).

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Puffin conservation

Many of the major colonies of puffins are protected reserves (4). The RSPB and other concerned organisations have been lobbying for greater regulation of fishing in Europe, in order to prevent over-fishing (4).

View information on this species at the UNEP World Conservation Monitoring Centre.
There may be further information about this species available via the National Biodiversity Network Gateway.
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Find out more

For more information on the puffin and other bird species:

For more on seabirds:

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Authentication

Information authenticated by the RSPB:
http://www.rspb.org.uk/

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Glossary

Incubation
The act of incubating eggs, that is, keeping them warm so that development is possible.
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References

  1. IUCN Red List (April, 2011)
    http://www.iucnredlist.org/
  2. Mullarney, K., Svensson, L., Zetterstrom, D., & Grant, P.J. (1999) Collins Bird Guide. HarperCollins Publishers Ltd, London.
  3. RSPB (2003) The population status of birds in the UK:
    http://www.rspb.org.uk/Images/5_20625.pdf
  4. RSPB Puffin fact-sheet (July 2002):
    http://www.rspb.org.uk/birds/puffin/?page=p
  5. Lack, P. (1986) The Atlas of Wintering Birds in Britain and Ireland. T. & A. D. Poyser Ltd, Calton.
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Image credit

Puffin pair greeting  
Puffin pair greeting

© Craig Jones

Craig Jones
craigjones00@hotmail.co.uk
http://www.craigjoneswildlifephotography.co.uk

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Listen to the Puffin

Puffin pair greeting
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Puffin recordings by William W. H. Gunn

© Cornell Lab of Ornithology

Macaulay Library
Cornell Lab of Ornithology
159 Sapsucker Woods Road
Ithaca
New York 14850
United States of America
Tel: +1 (607) 254-2404
Fax: +1 (607) 254-2439
Email: macaulaylibrary@cornell.edu
Website: www.birds.cornell.edu/MacaulayLibrary

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