Atlantic Puffins

Atlantic Puffin by Andreas Trepte

There’s not too many birds that are cuter than a puffin.

During breeding season, which starts sometime around late April, puffins return to their nesting sites after a winter spent out at sea. Their nesting sites are all on the grassy slopes or near the clifftops of islands. This provides them with a reliable food supply for feeding their young, as small fish are usually abundant in coastal waters. It also provides them with safety as an island or cliff is often inaccessible to mammal predators.

Puffins are monogamous which means they only breed with one another during the breeding season and sometimes stay with the same mate for life. The male makes a burrow in sod or beneath rocks three feet deep ending in a small chamber which they line with grass and feathers. They only lay one egg and then take turns incubating it for several weeks. Once it hatches, they take turns feeding it for another few weeks until it is able to take care of itself. Then they abandon it and head out to sea.

Puffins eat small fish, squid, marine worms and crustaceans. They dive from the surface into schools of fish sometimes going as deep as 200 feet and stay under for up to 30 seconds. Their wings become flippers and their feet are the rudders. They may swallow their catch underwater, or bring it up crosswise in their beaks to take home to the baby chick, called a “puffling”.

The best place to see puffins is Witless Bay where the largest colony in North America comes to nest — around 500,000 birds.

BOOKS: Atlantic puffin : little brother of the North by Kristin Bieber Domm (picture book).

Photo credit: This photo was taken by Andreas Trepte http://www.photo-natur.de.

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