Puffin

Fratercula arctica

26-29cm

Appearance

The upperparts are mostly black, the face is dusky white, and the underparts are mostly white with distinct demarcation from the black neck. The bill is big, flattened laterally and coloured with red, blue and yellow; the male's is bigger than the female's. The skin around the eye is also colourful, and the legs are vivid red-orange. During winter, birds are similar to summer adults but the face is dark grey, the colour on the bill lessens significantly, and the bill becomes smaller. When flying, Puffins are grey on the underwing. Juvenile birds resemble winter adults, but they're smaller, there's a dusky black mark in front of they eye, and the bill is darker and more dull.

Habitat

The Puffin is a true seabird, only going to land to breed, or if it unhealthy. Prefers islands and high cliffs by the sea for breeding grounds.

Character

Wing movement is quick and buzzing, though it slows when landing or when lifted by wind thermals. Swims and dives regularly, using its wings to move beneath water. Has a series of breeding displays, such as pairs hitting bills together, or males flicking their heads. Often sits upright on land, but may also lay its breast to the ground. Is a sociable bird when in breeding colonies, but otherwise is seen singly or in pairs.

Food

Catches small fish such as sand eel, sprat, herring and caplin.

Breeding

Arrives at breeding colonies in March and April and a single egg is laid in mid-May. Both adults incubate for 36-43 days; the hatchling is covered in down. It stays burrowed for 38-44 days, then makes its way to the ocean where it must learn to be independent.

Population

Departs colonies when breeding season is over. Disperses to many different territories including the eastern Atlantic, Norway, Newfoundland and the Mediterranean. It's thought that there are more than 580 000 pairs in the UK and 20 000 in Ireland.

Observation Tips

The nature of the Puffin nesting colonies means that observers are often provided with breathtaking views. Colonies can be rich in sound and smell too, so the experience can be exciting and appeals to all the senses. Shetland (Hermaness and Noss in particular) can be a great location to visit, as can Skomer Island in Pembrokeshire. In late June and July, birds may be seen returning from a hunt, their bills loaded with small fish.

Voice

Predominately a quiet bird, but has a low, groaning (and often repetitive) 'arrrh' when near its nest.
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