There are three species of Puffins in the Fratercula genus, and the Atlantic Puffin (F. arctica) is the most familiar.
You probably know what a Puffin looks like, maybe you’ve even been lucky enough to see these gorgeous seabirds with your own eyes, but do you know what their babies look like?
Very few people have ever seen a baby Puffin (Puffling) because they stay underground until they are ready to fly. So, in this article, we’ll be teaching you all about baby Puffins, what they look like, and how they start their lives!
Baby Puffins hatch out with open eyes and a full covering of soft feathers. Their feathers are wet at first, but the baby will soon dry into a puffy ball of down. Most of their feathers are black or very dark grey, although their bellies are white, and their legs and feet are black.
Keep reading to learn more about the size of a Puffling and how much they weigh.
Close up of a young Puffling emerging from the nest
Female Puffins lay just one large egg, which weighs an impressive 15% of their body mass. Baby Puffins are relatively large when they hatch. The fluffy baby Puffling would fit neatly in the palm of your hand in its first few days, but it grows fast on a protein-rich diet of fresh fish.
Baby Puffins weigh less than two ounces when they hatch. Their average weight varies between colonies, with most chicks weighing around 1.4 ounces (40 g), about the mass of a large House sparrow.
Pufflings weigh 9.5 - 12.5 ounces (270 - 360 g) when they fledge the nest. Interestingly, they are much heavier (8-10%) than this at four weeks of age. Puffin parents begin to feed their chick less for the last two weeks before it fledges the nest.
Once independent, immature Puffins will continue to gain weight until they reach their full adult size at about five years old.
Newborn Puffin Chick (Puffling) with wings spread wide
Throwing baby birds off cliffs sounds kind of cruel, but Icelanders do this to help baby Puffins, not hurt them. Pufflings leave the nest at night and follow the light of the moon out to sea.
Artificial lights in harbors and towns near their breeding colonies confuse the young birds, causing them to head off in the wrong direction.
Caring individuals catch these confused fledglings and release them the next day. Baby Puffins are ready to fly when they leave the nest, and it is perfectly normal for them to leap from the top of a cliff!
Atlantic Puffin adult next to their chick
Juvenile Puffins look very similar to non-breeding adults, although they do not reach full size for a good few years.
But what do non-breeding adult Puffins look like?
Puffins are not as colorful during the winter as they are when nesting. Non-breeding adults have black faces, and only the front half of their bill is orange. They do not have their characteristic clown-like facial colors.
If you look carefully, you might notice the following differences between juvenile Puffins and non-breeding adults:
Close up portrait of a juvenile Puffin
Baby Puffins have the delightful name of Pufflings. You could also call them hatchlings when they first hatch out, nestlings while growing up in their underground nests, and fledglings when they first fly out into the wide world.
Most Baby Puffins are fed exclusively with small fish like Herring and Sandlance, although sometimes their parents bring in small crustaceans. The hungry young birds swallow their food whole.
Baby Puffins beg for food with a high-pitched cheeping call, very different from the deep growl of the adults. Puffin parents feed their chick two to ten times per day, depending on the age of the Puffling. They bring in the most food when their chick is about four weeks old.
Puffin retuning to nesting burrow with fish to feed chick
Puffins capture fish out at sea and bring them back to the nest, often while the meal is still wriggling. They hunt by swimming underwater at high speed and snatching fish with their beak. They do most of their fishing near the colony, although they may need to travel further when food is scarce.
Puffins have the incredible ability to bring several fish back to the nest at once. Most American Puffins bring less than ten fish per trip, but the record stands at over sixty fish for an overachieving Puffin parent from Scotland!
Puffin parents feed young Pufflings directly from their bills but drop the remaining fish on the floor for the baby to eat in its own time. When the Puffling grows older, its parent will deposit the food at the burrow’s entrance for the little one to collect.
Young Atlantic Puffin swimming on the sea
Puffin pairs work together when nesting, sharing all the duties of raising their chick. Both Puffin parents feed the Puffling.
Puffin pairs have just one chick per year. That makes every chick precious, so Puffin parents work hard to provide for their baby.
Puffins only start breeding when they are four or five years old, although these small seabirds can live for over thirty years if they are lucky. Adults usually pair up with the same partner every year, and successful pairs can raise many chicks in their lifetime.
Puffin chicks are known as Pufflings
Pufflings spend about six weeks in the nest. However, the actual time can vary pretty dramatically. In years when fish are scarce, the young birds take much longer to grow on a restricted diet. Pufflings that are raised by a single parent also take much longer to fledge.
Pufflings leave at night when it is safer from predators like Peregrine Falcons and Great Black-backed Gulls that have a taste for other seabirds.
The young birds are fully independent after leaving the nest, which means no more free meals from mom and dad. Baby Puffins will spend the next few years out at sea, only returning to the breeding colony when they are fully grown.
Young Puffin greeting parent returning to the nest, Skomer Island, Wales, UK
Baby Puffins are mostly black when they hatch. However, the fluffy youngsters do have grayish chests and white bellies.
When you think of baby Puffins, you probably think of black and white birds with colorful faces, but the young birds look very different at first.
Many seabirds have a white underside and a dark back. This pattern camouflages them from prey under the water and predators flying above.
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