Atlantic Puffin – (Fratercula Arctica)
Atlantic puffins are sometimes called common puffins and are a member of the auk family, the same as the now extinct Great Auk, of which the last mating pair were killed on Eldey island, off the south coast of Iceland in 1844. Now the islands around Iceland are still used by seabirds to breed. Just out of Reykjavik are several islands with puffin colonies on them. During breeding season we love to go out and see them on our Puffin Watching Tours but we often see them when we go Whale Watching too.
These puffins have a black crown and back, pale grey cheeks and a white underside. In the breeding season it’s broad beak becomes bright red and black, and it’s legs become bright orange. This is how we are used to seeing them, but during the winter, when it is at sea it moults and becomes a lot duller, to the extent that for a long time it was thought to be a different bird.
Puffins nest in clifftop colonies, laying a single egg per pair in a burrow they dig out. The young puffin, adorably called a ‘puffling’ is fed on whole, though very small fish and grows fast. In only 6 weeks it is fully fledged and, under the light of a full moon, it makes its way to the cold open northern seas. It will not return again until it is ready to breed.
As they often nest on islands they are mostly free of land-based predators, but can be attacked by large gulls from above, or animals like seals when they are swimming. Often they are harassed by other sea-birds in order to steal the fish filling their mouths as they return to the burrows to feed their young.
Whilst their clumsy landing and colourful features have given them the nickname ‘clowns of the sea’ these are actually very graceful and impressive creatures. Flying they must beat their wings 400times a minute to stay aloft but in the water they come into their own, propelled along by their short, though strong wings. They can dive down to 60m!