The Atlantic Puffin (Fratercula arctica) is one of the most recognizable birds on the planet. Often known as the clown or parrot of the sea, these small seabirds are easiest to observe in the summer breeding season.
They are one of only three species in their genus and a bird that every keen birdwatcher should go out and see. So, where do these birds live?
Atlantic Puffins are widespread across the northern Atlantic Ocean. However, they occur in different areas at different times of the year. Puffins live in the vicinity of their breeding colonies in the summer and head out to the open ocean in winter.
Atlantic Puffins are true seabirds. They only need to come ashore to nest and raise a single chick each year. They prefer the safety of islands, cliffs, and rocky slopes with plenty of crevices where it’s safe from predators. Puffins spend most of their lives at sea, diving and swimming underwater to catch their prey.
This article covers the distribution range and habitat of the Atlantic Puffin. Read along to find out where you can see these colorful seabirds.
During the summer, Puffins live in their breeding colonies, before heading out to sea in the Winter
Atlantic Puffins live in the Atlantic Ocean in the Northern Hemisphere. These migratory birds nest on islands and sea cliffs in the spring and summer. Their nesting colonies are found along the Northeast Coast of North America, on Greenland, Iceland, off Western Europe, and to Russia in the East.
Atlantic Puffins can be found almost anywhere off the coast from their breeding colonies during the non-breeding season, although they have preferred overwintering grounds.
However, they do not spend the winter near their breeding grounds in western Greenland and the Hudson Bay. Puffins disperse to forage over the open ocean for much of the year, even sleeping out at sea.
Atlantic Puffins live in the Atlantic Ocean in the Northern Hemisphere
Puffins have a very restricted breeding range on the East Coast of the United States. The odd bird has turned up as far south as Florida, but they are rare south of Massachusetts. Puffins breed on a few islands in the Gulf of Maine, including Eastern Egg Rock and Matinicus Rock.
Atlantic Puffins are most likely to be seen off the coasts of the following US states:
A colony of Puffins in Maine, USA
Atlantic Puffins gather to nest on small islands along the east coast of Canada. These colonies occur from the Hudson Bay and the Hudson Strait around Nunavut in the north to Nova Scotia and New Brunswick in the south. They forage far offshore during the winter.
Bird watchers can spot Puffins from many points along the UK coastline, although they are most common in the vicinity of their breeding colonies in the Northeast of England to the Orkney Islands and the North of Scotland.
You can also see Puffins on the west coast from the Isles of Scilly in the south, along Wales, around Ireland and Northern Ireland, and through the Irish Sea to the west Coast of Scotland.
Puffin coming in to land, Skomer Island, Pembrokeshire, Wales, UK
The largest breeding colony in Iceland is on the Westman Islands (Vestmannaeyjar), just to the south of mainland Iceland. However, Iceland is famous for its Atlantic Puffin population, and breeding colonies are dotted all around its rugged coastline.
Puffins are seabirds, so they do not occur inland. They nest near the shore in rocky and grassy habitats along the coasts of islands and mainlands but forage out at sea. These birds travel far from land during the non-breeding season, preferring Boreal and Arctic waters.
Puffins are mainly spotted near the shore, on cliffs and grassy habitats
Atlantic Puffins are declining across much of their range due to climate change, overfishing, and other factors. Sadly, they are even listed as endangered in some of their former strongholds.
Spotting these birds out at sea during the non-breeding season can be a little like searching for a needle in a haystack, but visiting known breeding colonies in the summer can be a reliable way to watch these delightful birds.
The best place to see Puffins is the vicinity of a breeding colony where birdwatchers can observe them coming and going each day. Puffins are sensitive to disturbance while nesting, so always watch from a respectful distance.
Keep reading to learn about some great places to see nesting Atlantic Puffins.
Three Puffins pictured in Iceland
Puffins are diurnal birds, which means they forage during the day. Birders can watch them returning to the nest through the day with a bill full of fish to feed their growing chick. Look out for birds hanging around the colony in the evening or floating on the water nearby.
Puffins are migratory birds, which means they live in different areas at different times of the year. During the breeding season, they stay near the nesting colony, traveling up to 30 miles each day to find food for their single chick.
Atlantic Puffins return to the same colony year after year and usually breed with the same partner. Most Puffins will return to nest in the same colony where they were born, although they will move to different locations when space is limited.
Puffin swimming in the sea, Maine, USA
Puffins live out at sea for most of the year, including winter. They do not come to land at all this time, not even to sleep. Read on to learn where they go.
Atlantic Puffins that nest in the Gulf of Maine have been tracked to overwinter off the Georges Bank about two hundred miles from the coast. Puffins that breed in the UK head into the Atlantic Ocean, stay in the North Sea, or head south to overwinter in the Bay of Biscay.
Puffins live in the vicinity of their breeding colony in the summer. These colonies are dotted along the coasts of the following countries:
Atlantic Puffin with a beak full of eels
Puffins are social birds that nest in large colonies, some with over a million birds returning each year. During the breeding season, they often form small groups or rafts which float together within a few feet or inches of each other.
Puffins disperse widely in the winter, usually foraging in pairs or on their own.
Puffins live in the arctic zone in the north of their range. They do not occur near Antarctica in the Southern Hemisphere.
Puffins and Penguins are often confused, although the two are quite distinct and never occur together. Puffins are restricted to the northern two-thirds of the Earth, while penguins only live in the Southern Hemisphere.
Puffins live in the temperate and polar zones of the Northern Hemisphere. They occasionally enter subtropical areas during the winter, sometimes turning up as far South as Florida.
Tufted Puffins (Fratercula cirrhata) and Horned Puffins (F. corniculata) are widespread around the Alaskan coast. These birds can be seen off the south coast throughout the year but only visit the west coast during the summer breeding season.
Puffins are summer breeding visitors to the Gulf of Maine. Their numbers are increasing due to the efforts of conservationists who have successfully reintroduced them to islands like Eastern Egg Rock. During the winter, the birds move offshore, although they can be seen off Georges Bank where they forage.
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