Puffins are some of the most beloved birds worldwide. Their colourful beaks, fat white bellies, and penguin-like strutting while on land makes them a firm favourite for any bird watcher. But what does the puffin eat? We’re looking at what is on the menu for these beautiful birds below, and some of their dietary habits may be shocking to you.
Puffins hunt herring, capelin, hake and sand eels primarily. They will eat molluscs and shrimp too. A puffin’s diet greatly depends on the food sources in the area.
While many puffins eat almost exclusively fish, as we’ll see below, their diets can even change from colony to colony.
As puffins live across many different coastal areas around the world, their diets are nice and varied, as it greatly depends on what food is in the area. The time of year can even dictate what a puffin will put on its plate. Puffins have been known to hunt crabs, jellyfish, shrimp, molluscs and many different fish species.
An Atlantic Puffin (Fratercula arctica) with a beak full of fish, Skomer Island, UK
Puffins eat a wide variety of things in the wild. Their diet can include crabs, herring, hake, sand eels, shrimps, octopus, squid and molluscs. As long as it is seafood, a puffin will happily hunt and eat it.
Puffins have adapted to their local environments, so food sources for different colonies can be vastly different. Still, though, puffins tend to choose small fish and molluscs for most of their meals.
It is difficult to say what a puffin’s favourite food is, as even from colony to colony, their diet habits can change.
However, puffins do love to eat small fish. They can hold a fish of up to 18cm (7 inches) in their beak, but most opt for smaller fish of around 7cm (3 inches).
We aren’t sure if the puffins favour smaller fish for their taste or because they can catch more of them quickly and easily.
Puffin in flight with a beak full of fish
You may have seen puffins with fish sticking out their iconic beak as they make their way back to their nest to eat them. The puffin doesn’t simply gobble all the fish at once.
Instead, it takes them back to the nest, gives some to the baby if they have a baby at the time, and then eats them one by one until their plate is empty.
They eat about 40 fish a day, so they need a few trips out to sea per day to fill their belly. They will often eat smaller fish underwater as they hunt too.
Puffins fly through the water, using their wings to propel themselves and their feet to steer. They hunt by sight while underwater and will make several short dives to catch up to 10 fish at once.
They dive to about 60 meters but can’t hold their breath for more than about 30 seconds. So several quick, deep dives are needed to fill their beaks.
Puffin swimming on the water in search of fish
Puffins eat a wide variety of fish, including herring, hake, capelin, sand eels and even small cod. They also eat many other sea creatures, including octopus, squid and shrimp.
Puffins eat a lot of different sea creatures. Their diet is very much dictated by what is in their local area. So, some puffins eat squid, octopus and shrimps. Some will also eat crabs and jellyfish. Other puffins have been seen eating zooplankton.
A small group of Common Puffins
An adult puffin eats around 40 fish a day.
Baby puffins, though, eat around 100 fish a day. Adult puffins can hold about 10 fish in their mouths, so they need to hunt a lot during the breeding season to feed themselves and their little ones.
A puffin will eat whatever fish and other sea creatures it can find in the winter. They will usually continue to eat small fish, but they will also eat marine invertebrates during the winter too.
Puffin bringing back a beak full of fish to feed chicks
Baby puffins are fed fish by their parents from the moment they hatch. A baby puffin can consume about 100 fish a day, so during the breeding season, it is the perfect time to see adult puffins hunt.
Puffins wash down their meals with saltwater. They expel the excess salt out of nose glands.
Puffin with large fish in its beak
Atlantic puffins almost exclusively eat fish, including herring, capelin, hake and sand eels.
Horned puffins eat mostly small fish species. A horned puffin also holds the record for the amount of fish held in its mouth at one time, with 62 fish!
Tufted puffins can happily survive on fish but will occasionally also hunt octopuses, squid, shrimp, zooplankton and jellyfish.
A pair of horned puffins (Fratercula corniculata)
Puffins have been known to eat crab. This isn’t the most common food source for a puffin, but a few have been witnessed with small crabs in their beak.
Atlantic puffins do eat marine worms, but not earthworms. All of a puffin’s food comes from the sea.
Puffins do eat marine invertebrates, particularly in the winter months.
Yes, puffins can eat plankton, although they prefer small fish.
Close up of a tufted puffin (Fratercula cirrhata)
If anchovies are in the same area as puffins, then there is a very good chance their diets will consist of anchovies and other small fish.
Yes, puffins do enjoy eating shrimp, although it greatly depends on the food sources in the area. If there are shrimp, though, puffins will eat them all day long.
Puffins do not eat plants; they live on fish and other small sea creatures.
There is no evidence to suggest that puffins eat meat. All of their food comes from the sea, with small fish making up most of their diet, and some small sea creatures are eaten too.
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