Atlantic Puffins in our Coastal Waters
We are fortunate to have Atlantic Puffins (Fratercula arctica) living on our coastal shores. Their normal breeding grounds are off Iceland, Greenland, northern Labrador, northern Europe and Atlantic Canada. They are an iconic species that is well known to most people. They bring many tourists to our area.
|Atlantic Puffin With Bill Full of Fish [D. Ingersoll Photo]|
The Atlantic Puffin is a happy-looking, clown-faced bird. It is a member of the Alcid family. It lives on the open ocean for most of the year and comes to land in spring and summer to breed and raise its young. It prefers rocky ledges and islands. It nests in burrows or among and under rocks on these islands. It builds its nest from grass, feathers, seaweed and leaves. It lays a single white egg sometimes spotted with brown or lavender. Incubation ranges from 39 to 45 days and is shared by both adults.
The adult puffin stands about 32 cm (12.5 in) tall. It is a round, heavy bodied bird that walks well on land. It has a large head and is noted for its colourful face and bill. In breeding plumage it is distinctively black and white with black on the top of head, collar, back and tail. The face and complete breast are stark white. The feet and legs are bright orange red. The bill is large, flattened laterally and shows red, yellow and blue plates. The corners of the mouth (gape) are yellow orange. The eye is ornamented with a clown-like triangle of red colour. Both male and female look alike. The non-breeding plumage is subdued with black or gray on the face and the bill loses most of its brilliant colours. The young have a grayish black face and a much smaller gray bill which may show some muted colour.
The puffins are strong fliers and fly back and forth to sea in search of fish to feed the young. See the photo above which shows an adult with a good supply of probably herring to feed its young. Anatomically they have a series of backward-facing barbs on their tongue and hard palate which help them hold many fish at once. They forage by diving and swimming under water with their wings and strong feet and legs. Puffins are mostly silent but do vocalize on the breeding grounds with deep moans and growls.
|Atlantic Puffin Young|
The Atlantic Puffin is the provincial bird of Newfoundland and Labrador. On a visit to Bay Bulls, NL, last summer I saw about 100 puffins swimming in the bay.
The scientific name for puffins, Fratercula, means friar or little brother. Presumably that is because of their black and white 'dress' and their waddling walk which would remind one of a friar or a small child. It is certainly fun to watch them. We are noted here in New Brunswick for our colony on Machias Seal Island. On a visit there I watched many of these birds coming and going while feeding their young, or just standing around apparently socializing on the rocks. This colony attracts many tourists every year and is strictly controlled so no harm is brought to the birds while the tourists enjoy watching the activity.
If you have never seen this species, you should arrange a trip to Machias Seal Island to watch them. They are one of New Brunswick's natural heritages.