Living Bird Magazine
Atlantic PuffinFratercula arctica
- ORDER: Charadriiformes
- FAMILY: Alcidae
A sharply dressed black-and-white seabird with a huge, multicolored bill, the Atlantic Puffin is often called the clown of the sea. It breeds in burrows on islands in the North Atlantic, and winters at sea. In flight, puffins flap their small wings frantically to stay aloft—but underwater those wings become powerful flippers that allow the birds to catch small fish one by one until they have a beak full. This long-lived bird, once widely hunted, is reestablishing its small range in the U.S., although warming ocean waters are causing breeding failures in other parts of the North Atlantic.More ID Info
Find This Bird
The best time to find Atlantic Puffins is during the breeding season. From late April through August they come ashore to nest on islands—the rest of the year they’re far out at sea. In the U.S. the best bet is to take a boat trip to rocky islands off Maine. Elsewhere, puffins nest in larger numbers in Canada, Scotland, Greenland, Norway, and especially Iceland, which is home to about half the global population. In these countries, a visit to a puffin colony can provide great views of hundreds to thousands of the birds. Outside of the breeding season, you’ll likely need to take a pelagic birding trip well offshore to find one.
- Frailecillo Atlántico (Spanish)
- Macareux moine (French)
- Cool Facts
- Puffin chicks are known as “pufflings.”
- A lighthouse keeper on Iceland’s Westman Islands has been banding puffin chicks for more than 60 years. The islands are home to the largest puffin colony in the world, and the keeper, Oskar Sigurdsson, earned a spot in the Guinness Book of World Records for his prolific banding: more than 90,000 birds in that time, including more than 55,000 puffins.
- Atlantic Puffins occur across the North Atlantic from Canada to Norway and south to Spain.
- Like many seabirds, the Atlantic Puffin is long-lived, averaging 30 plus years. And like other birds with long lifespans, the young take several years to mature. Puffins do not breed until they are 3–6 years old.
- The Atlantic Puffin is the official bird of Newfoundland and Labrador, Canada.
- Half of North America’s Atlantic Puffins breed in one location: Witless Bay, Newfoundland, Canada.
- The oldest recorded Atlantic Puffin was banded as a chick in Norway and lived to be 41 years old. But it’s likely puffins can live even longer than that; it’s only relatively recently that bands durable enough to last 40 years have come into wide use.