Bird Notes

Bird Notes : Puffin

The Atlantic Puffin (Fratercula arctica) stands about one foot tall and is a member of the Auk family, along with its cousins the Tufted and Horned Puffins of the Pacific. It is immediately recognisable by its large red, blue and yellow triangular bill. In the winter the bill loses some of its colouring and is smaller in size. The Puffin has bright orange feet and a black back and white underside, similar to many of the rest of the Auk family. A single egg is laid in a colonial burrow, sometimes an old rabbit one, between April and August. The nest is lined with bracken, grass and a few feathers. The egg is white with faint markings and soon becomes stained; it is incubated mainly by the female for five to six weeks. The chick is fed by both parents for about a further six weeks and is then deserted. After a week the chick, now rather hungry, makes its own way to the sea. Its main diet is small fish, Sand Eels being the favourite.

Ringing recoveries have shown that Puffins can live for 20 years. Nesting success rate can rise and fall between years, mainly due to the weather and food supplies. 2007 was particularly bad, when large numbers of burrows were flooded and many birds found a lack of suitable fish. The Atlantic Puffin, as its name suggests, lives in the North Atlantic! Its range area is from Maine on the eastern seaboard of the US, through Newfoundland, Greenland, Iceland, Norway and the British Isles. The largest colony, 60%  of the worlds population, is found in Iceland, estimated at over a quarter of a million birds. The birds spend autumn and winter at sea only returning to land in the spring to breed. The young birds will not return to land for several years until they too mate. Unfortunately the Puffin has many predators, Seals when at sea and Gulls and Skuas when in the air and on land. Great Black-backed Gulls and Great Skuas will take adult birds when the opportunity arises and Arctic Skuas will harass them until they drop their catch of fish.