Puffin (Fratercula arctica)

GenusFratercula (1)
SizeLength: 28-34 cm (2)
Wingspan: 50-60 cm (2)
Top facts

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).

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).

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).

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

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).

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).

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).

For more information on the puffin and other bird species:

For more on seabirds:

Information authenticated by the RSPB:

  1. IUCN Red List (April, 2011)
  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:
  4. RSPB Puffin fact-sheet (July 2002):
  5. Lack, P. (1986) The Atlas of Wintering Birds in Britain and Ireland. T. & A. D. Poyser Ltd, Calton.