It’s hard to argue about the fact that these are considered to be some of the cutest birds on the planet.
In this post, you’ll discover the ultimate list of interesting facts about puffins.
1. Puffins are part of the auk family
These birds are a type of bird in the family “Alcidae” referred to as “auks” or “alcids.” They are defined by their great ability to fly and dive into the water to catch prey and have a remarkable ability to swim underwater.
That being said, you won’t find a lot of these birds on land except for the slippery rocks of the islands they build their nests on to breed, because waking isn’t particularly their specialty.
Puffins are seabirds that breed in large colonies and live for extended periods of the year in the sea.
2. There are 3 different species of puffins
Puffins are part of the genus “Fratercula” and there are 3 recognized species:
- Atlantic puffin (Fratercula arctica)
- Horned puffin (Fratercula corniculata)
- Tufted puffin or crested puffin (Fratercula cirrhata)
3. The Latin name of the genus refers to monks
One of the most remarkable facts about puffins is that the Latin name of the genus they belong to, Fratercula, translates to “Little Brother.”
Even though their beaks are often very colorful, their feathers are usually black and white, just as the robes worn by monks. The genus was first described in the year 1760 by French zoologist Mathurin Jacques Brisson.
4. Their English name was originally used to define another bird
If you look closely at the face of a puffin, you can indeed see that it appears to be a bit swollen, which is why they are referred to as such.
This name wasn’t initially given to puffins though, but to the Manx shearwater (Puffinus puffinus), a type of bird of which the meat is prone to swelling.
The “Manks puffin,” as it used to be referred to, is completely unrelated to the birds we now simply call “puffins.”
5. Where do puffins live?
The 3 different species of puffins live in both the North Pacific and North Atlantic Oceans, with the Atlantic puffin being the only species living in the Atlantic Ocean.
What’s remarkable about puffins is that their range is extremely extended and they only go on land to breed. After breeding season, they return to the ocean.
During the breeding season, they can take over entire islands as they come together in massive colonies. These islands are then commonly referred to as “Puffin Island.”
6. How big are puffins?
Puffins are medium-sized birds and these are the specifications of the 3 species:
- Atlantic puffin: 32 cm (13 in) long – 53 cm (21 in) wingspan – 380 g (13 oz) weight
- Horned puffin: 38 cm (15 in) long – 58 cm (23 in) wingspan – 620 g (1.37 lb) weight
- Tufted puffin: 38 cm (15 in) long – 63.5 cm (25.0 in) wingspan – 780 g (1.72 lb) weight
7. They have a colorful bill, but only during the breeding season
One of the most fascinating facts about puffins is that they are only have an extremely colorful during the breeding season. After the breeding season, they actually shed the outer part of their bills.
This results in a much duller-looking bill during the winter which is when breeding season ends and the time that they spent on the ocean!
8. These birds form lifelong relationships
The Atlantic puffins build some sort of tunnel to a nest that is lined with materials such as leaves or grass. Other species usually find a hole in a cliff or rocks along the coasts.
Both the male and female take good care of the nest and incubate the single egg laid produced by the female. Both parents also feed the chick until it’s strong enough to go out into the ocean where it spends the first few years of its life.
They stay there until they reach maturity, which is around 3 to 5 years old (in captivity they can start breeding as early as 3 years old), and finally, they go on land themselves to breed for the first time!
And yes, this includes finding a partner with which they stay for life!
9. There’s a colony in Iceland with about 4 million individuals
Breeding happens in very large colonies which can consist of millions of birds. The biggest colony can be found in the Westmann Isles which are located in the southwest of Iceland.
This colony consists of up to 1.1 million nests and an estimated 4 million individual birds, an astounding number.
Even though they are silent when they spend time in the ocean, while they are breeding they make quite some noise as well!
10. They are capable of catching multiple fish at once
These remarkable birds have a very particular way of hunting. They fly about 10 meters (33 feet) over the ocean’s surface by clapping their wings together at a pace of about 400 claps per minute.
When they spot fish in the ocean, they dive and catch their prey which usually consists of sand eel, herring, and capelin. They also eat zooplankton in case fish is hard to come by.
One of the most fascinating facts about puffins is they can hold multiple small fish in their bills at the same time, sometimes up to one dozen fish! That’s because it has a unique hinging mechanism that allows them to twist and turn it in a way they can achieve this.
By bringing up to a dozen fish to their nests they can save a lot of energy as well compared to birds that can only carry one fish.
11. Are puffins yummy to eat?
There’s an island group in the utmost southwestern corner of Ireland called the Blasket Islands. These islands were inhabited until the year 1953 and puffins were one of the main sources of food for the 175 residents living there until everybody moved out.
This doesn’t mean that puffins are only eaten because it’s the only source of food, there are at least 2 places in the world where puffins are a regular dish and considered to be a delicacy.
These are Iceland, where these birds are even part of the national diet, similar to how chickens are consumed elsewhere. They catch them using a technique called “sky fishing” and eventually end up being served in fine restaurants and hotels. The same thing applies to the Faroe Islands which are located north of the British Islands.
A tradition in Iceland is to eat the raw heart of the freshly caught puffin!
12. Their cute looks made them the symbol of these 2 places
There’s also good news for some of the cutest looking birds in the world because they are considered to be symbols in at least 2 areas. One of these is the Canadian province of Newfoundland and Labrador where they are the provincial bird.
The other region which sees these birds as a representative symbol is the Westman Islands, or Vestmannaeyjar, the group of islands where they have established their largest colony in the world!