The Puffin, also known as the Atlantic Puffin is listed as vulnerable by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) on the Red List of Threatened Species.
The puffin is instantly the most recognisable of all seabirds found around the coasts of the UK. In the main this is due to its stocky almost plump appearance and the shape and colour of its bill. During the summer the adult bird’s almost triangular shaped beak is distinctively patterned red, orange, yellow and blue. As the bird ages, grooves appear circling the beak which makes the beak larger. The bird has a white underside and a whitish grey face and cheeks with black head, neck, wings, and upper parts. The legs and webbed feet are bright orange and there are red and black markings around the dark coloured eyes. During the winter the adult’s face becomes much greyer and the beak loses its bright colours with the feet turning a pale yellow. Juvenile birds resemble their parents’ winter markings and colour.
Puffin with spread wings
Whilst their relatively small wings are beautifully adapted to help them swim and dive under the water, in flight they have to beat them rapidly to stay aloft and can reach up to 400 wing beats per minute in order to do so.
Puffins mainly vocalise around the nest and utter a long deep growl similar to ‘aaaaaarrrrrrrrr’.
Puffin in flight
Puffins feed on fish, squid and sand eels. They have a serrated bill and a tongue which they use to trap food against their palate thus enabling them to open their bills and catch further food. In this way they can return to their young with a bill containing many fish which is a far more effective way of feeding.
Close up of a Puffin with Sand-eels
Puffins are resident in the UK around the coasts of Scotland and the Scottish Northern Isles. There are also small resident populations on the northeast coast of England. Summer visitors nest around the coasts of Northern Ireland, north and south Wales, Lundy Island, north Devon and Cornwall and the Scilly Isles. Visiting birds arrive from March onwards and depart in late August. Their nests are normally built in burrows which they excavate themselves. The nesting sites are often on grassy slopes and clifftop colonies overlooking the sea. If it is not possible to burrow due to the geology of the nesting site pairs will often use fissures or cracks in the cliffs. During the winter, birds return to the Atlantic and spend their time at sea often floating in large flocks otherwise known as rafts.
Trio of Puffins sat on the water
Male and female adults are identical in colour and markings although the female is shorter than the male which only becomes apparent when they are standing together. When walking they tend to waddle in a comical manner. Some of the best places to view puffins are RSPB or National Trust reserves.
Puffins pair for life and start breeding around the age of 5 years. The female lays a single white egg deep inside the nest in April to early May which is incubated by both parents for a period of up to 45 days.
Pair of Puffins - paired for life, usually.
The average lifespan of an Atlantic puffin is up to 20 years although there have been cases of birds surviving into their thirties!