Atlantic puffins, scientifically known as fratercula arctica, are the smallest species of puffin. They average about 7 inches (18 centimeters) in height and weigh approximately 500 17.5 ounces (500 grams). They also have a wingspan somewhere between 19 to 23 inches (50 to 60 centimeters). Despite this impressive wingspan, Atlantic puffins are not graceful fliers. They must flap their wings 300 to 400 beats per minute in order to stay airborne, although then can reach up to 55 miles (88 kilometers) per hour when flying. They also frequently tumble and crash when trying to land in the sea or on the ground.
Atlantic puffins live the majority of their lives out at sea, living in the North Atlantic Ocean. They are the only puffin species to inhabit the Atlantic Ocean (the other 3 species live in the Pacific Ocean). They may travel as far south as the Mediterranean and North Carolina when it starts to get cold during the winter months. During their mating season, they can be found along the coasts of northern Europe, Iceland, the Faroe Islands, as well as eastern parts of the United States. They may even be found in northern France, Maine, and the Arctic Circle.
Although they are poor fliers, Atlantic puffins are actually strong swimmers. They use their wings to stroke underwater with a flying motion and steer with their rudderlike webbed feet. They can hold their breath for up to 1 minute and dive to depths of 200 feet (61 meters). They use their impressive swimming skills to hunt for small fish (herring, capelin and hake), crustaceans and mollusks. On average, they can catch 10 fish in their mouths for every trip underwater. They have however, been known to catch as many as 60 fish in a single trip.
Around April of every year, the Atlantic puffins begin to grow brightly colored bill plates and move north toward their breeding grounds. They use their bright bills as a courtship ritual in which a pair will usually tap their bills together. They often select to build their feather or grass lined nests on precipitous, rocky cliff tops. Males will actually clear out the nest before their female arrives. Females will lay a single egg and both parents will take turns incubating it. The egg will hatch after 39 to 45 days of incubating. The chick is fed small fish by both parents who carry them to the nest inside their bills. Atlantic puffin couple will often reunite at the same burrow sited each and every year. It is unclear as to how the puffins actually manage to navigate back to their home grounds.
From their awkward flight to their strong swimming skills and even their mysterious method of locating their breeding burrows year after year, Atlantic puffins certainly are an interesting species. They are sea birds and as such, are always going where the sea (or wind) takes them. Such a unique creature deserves to be respected and appreciated. If so, then we won’t ever have to worry about losing them from the world.
“Atlantic Puffin” 16 November 2010
“Atlantic Puffin (Fratercula Arctica) 16 November 2010
“Fast Facts: Atlantic Puffin” 16 November 2010