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Animal Facts: Atlantic puffin

  • Published Aug 12, 2021
  • Updated Nov 08, 2023
  • 376 words
  • 2 minutes
As pelagic seabirds, the Atlantic puffin feeds primarily by diving into the water to catch fish. (Photo: Michael Winsor/Can Geo Photo Club)
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Often nicknamed “sea parrots” or “clowns of the sea”, Atlantic puffins are a well-loved seabird the breed in large colonies along cliffs or offshore islands. 

Fast Facts

Common name: Atlantic puffin

Scientific nameFratercula artica

Type: Bird

Diet: Carnivore

Group name: Colony

Average weight: 500 grams

Average height: 18 centimetres

COSEWIC Status: No status

Did you know?

Despite having wings, the puffin is a poor flier. It must flap its wings 300 to 400 times per minute to stay airborne. 

Physical characteristics and behaviour

The Atlantic puffin is the official bird of Newfoundland and Labrador and the smallest species of puffin. This pigeon-sized seabird’s black head, back and wings contrast sharply with its white face and underside. Its most notable features are its vibrant orange feet and the orange, yellow and bluish plates on its bill during breeding season. If you were to spot a puffin in the winter, however, you’d hardly recognize it. At sea, they shed their colourful bill plates and their feet turn a greyish colour. 

As a seabird, the puffin spends much of its time in the water, diving and scooping up as many fish as it can. Its body and wings are streamlined to allow for fast swimming. A puffin’s tongue and upper mouth have backward-pointing spines, which help it pin down prey while it dives for more food. A puffin can hold its breath for up to one minute underwater and can carry an average of 10 fish in its beak, but one time, a puffin was spotted carrying a record-breaking 62 fish! 

Not only is the puffin a poor flier, but it also has trouble landing gracefully and often crashes and tumbles into the sea or onto the grass. 

Diet

Its diet consists of small fish, such as capelin, herring and hake. Other fishes, as well as crustaceans, squid, and marine worms, are eaten when options are limited.

Habitat and distribution

The puffin spends winters at sea and migrates to coastal areas and islands in the North Atlantic every spring and summer for breeding. They dig burrows for nests and usually return to the same spot with the same mate year after year. Sixty per cent of the population breeds on islands off of Newfoundland. 

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