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The Atlantic puffin, also known as the common puffin, is a species of seabird in the auk family. It is the only puffin native to the Atlantic Ocean; two related species, the tufted puffin and the horned puffin, are found in the northeastern Pacific.
The Atlantic puffin breeds in Iceland, Norway, Greenland, Newfoundland and many North Atlantic islands, and as far south as Maine in the west and the west coast of Ireland and parts of the United Kingdom in the east. Although it has a large population and a wide range, the species has declined rapidly, at least in parts of its range, resulting in it being rated as vulnerable by the International Union for Conservation of Nature.
This puffin has a black crown and back, pale grey cheek patches and white underparts. Its broad, boldly marked red and black beak and orange legs contrast with its plumage. It moults while at sea in the winter and some of the bright-coloured facial characteristics are lost, with color returning again during the spring. The external appearance of the adult male and female are identical, though the male is usually slightly larger.
The juvenile has similar plumage, but its cheek patches are dark grey. The juvenile does not have brightly coloured head ornamentation, its bill is narrower and is dark-grey with a yellowish-brown tip, and its legs and feet are also dark. Puffins from northern populations are typically larger than in the south and these populations are generally considered a different subspecies.
Spending the autumn and winter in the open ocean of the cold northern seas, the Atlantic puffin returns to coastal areas at the start of the breeding season in late spring. It nests in clifftop colonies, digging a burrow in which a single white egg is laid. The chick mostly feeds on whole fish and grows rapidly. After about 6 weeks, it is fully fledged and makes its way at night to the sea. It swims away from the shore and does not return to land for several years.
Colonies are mostly on islands with no terrestrial predators, but adult birds and newly fledged chicks are at risk of attacks from the air by gulls and skuas. Sometimes, a bird such as an Arctic skua will harass a puffin arriving with a beakful of fish, causing it to drop its catch.
The striking appearance, large colourful bill, waddling gait, and behaviour of this bird have given rise to nicknames such as “clown of the sea” and “sea parrot”. It is the official bird symbol for the Canadian province of Newfoundland and Labrador.
which bird is known as the sea parrot?
The striking appearance, large colourful bill, waddling gait and behaviour of this bird have given rise to nicknames such as “clown of the sea” and “sea parrot”. It is the official bird symbol for the Canadian province of Newfoundland and Labrador.
The common, or Atlantic, puffin (Fratercula arctica) occurs on Atlantic coasts from the Arctic south to Brittany and Maine. It is about 30 cm (12 inches) long, black above, white below, with gray face plumage, red-orange feet, a blue-gray, yellow, and red bill, and horny plates of skin around the beak and on the eyelids.
The horned puffin (F. corniculata) is a Pacific relative of the Atlantic species. Of more southerly Pacific distribution is the tufted puffin (Lunda cirrhata), which is black with red legs and bill, a white face, and straw-coloured plumes curving backward from behind the eyes.
This bird has a large triangular bill and they are colored in yellow, blue, and vermilion. Sea parrots are adapted to carry several fish at a time. Puffin has dumpy body, short legs and small wings. They are expert swimmers too.
Is a puffin a parrot?
Nicknamed “sea parrots” – and sometimes “clowns of the sea“! – Atlantic puffins have black and white feathers and a large parrot-like beak. They are small seabirds measuring around 25cm in length.
Is a puffin a reptile?
When one looks at birds like this puffin, it can be hard to reconcile its cute appearance with its place in the animal kingdom. The thing is, this adorable puffin has something in common with a rattlesnake, in that it’s a reptile (Image credit: Ray Hennessy, Unsplash licence, Image Cropped).
Is a parrot a sea bird?
The Atlantic puffin, also known as the common puffin, is a species of seabird in the auk family. The striking appearance, large colourful bill, waddling gait and behaviour of this bird have given rise to nicknames such as “clown of the sea” and “sea parrot”
Is a puffin a bird or a penguin?
Puffins are not actually penguins! They are birds that look similar, but are not the same species. Puffins belong to a family of birds called Alcidae, while penguins belong to the family Spheniscidae; their wings evolved to support different functions.
Which is the bird of prey that catches small birds in flight?
Peregrine falcons are energetic, acrobatic flyers that specialize in catching birds in the air.
What are sea birds eaten by?
Predation: gulls, skuas, and giant petrels will often take eggs, chicks and even small adults from seabird colonies. The great skua will often take adult puffins and gulls, and the giant petrel will even tackle an albatross! Yikes!
Can you eat puffin birds?
2. Puffin. Icelanders also, according to legend, sometimes eat the friendly seabird puffin. Visitors can actually order them in many tourist restaurants in Reykjavík, usually smoked to taste almost like pastrami, or broiled in lumps resembling liver.
Are sea birds edible?
Castaways rarely think about eating birds, but all sea birds are edible (some might be very chewy though). Their meat can be eaten cooked, raw, or dried. If you can’t cook the bird, skin it and eat it raw.
The Atlantic Puffin is a bird that holds a special place in the Norwegian etymology. It even has its own festival – Lundefestivalen on Røst, a small island at the tip of the Lofoten archipelago. Røst is close to the clifftop colony with the most Atlantic Puffins in Norway, and in earlier times, collecting their eggs was an important part of coastal livelihood and traditions.
Today the Atlantic Puffin is listed as a vulnerable species. It spends autumn and winter out at open sea, then every spring returns to coastal cliffs where it breeds in large colonies. Each couple only lays one egg. After six weeks the chick is fully bred, mostly on whole fish, and is ready to go. It doesn’t return to shore for years.
Apart from Norway, the Atlantic Puffin breeds in Iceland, Greenland and Newfoundland, and also on the British Isles. They feed on fish and have no terrestrial predators in the breeding colonies on the cliffs. Their only worry is attacks on chicks by gulls or skuas.
The Atlantic Puffin is the only puffin native to the Atlantic Ocean.
Taxonomy and etymology
The Atlantic puffin is a species of seabird in the order Charadriiformes. It is in the auk family, Alcidae, which includes the guillemots, typical auks, murrelets, auklets, puffins, and the razorbill. The rhinoceros auklet (Cerorhinca monocerata) and the puffins are closely related, together composing the tribe Fraterculini.
The Atlantic puffin is the only species in the genus Fratercula to occur in the Atlantic Ocean. Two other species are known from the northeast Pacific, the tufted puffin (Fratercula cirrhata) and the horned puffin (Fratercula corniculata), the latter being the closest relative of the Atlantic puffin.
The generic name Fratercula comes from the Medieval Latin fratercula, friar, a reference to the black and white plumage which resembles monastic robes. The specific name arctica refers to the northerly distribution of the bird, being derived from the Greek ἄρκτος (“arktos”), the bear, referring to the northerly constellation, the Great Bear.
The vernacular name “puffin” – puffed in the sense of swollen – was originally applied to the fatty, salted meat of young birds of the unrelated species Manx shearwater (Puffinus puffinus), which in 1652 was known as the “Manks puffin”. It is an Anglo-Norman word (Middle English pophyn or poffin) used for the cured carcasses.
The Atlantic puffin acquired the name at a much later stage, possibly because of its similar nesting habits, and it was formally applied to Fratercula arctica by Pennant in 1768. While the species is also known as the common puffin, “Atlantic puffin” is the English name recommended by the International Ornithological Congress.
The three subspecies generally recognized are:
The only morphological difference between the three is their size. Body length, wing length, and size of beak all increase at higher latitudes. For example, a puffin from northern Iceland (subspecies F. a. naumanii) weighs about 650 grams (1 lb 7 oz) and has a wing length of 186 mm (7+5⁄16 in), while one from the Faroes weighs 400 g (0.9 lb) and has a wing length of 158 mm (6.2 in).
Individuals from southern Iceland are intermediate between the other two in size. Ernst Mayr has argued that the differences in size are clinal and are typical of variations found in peripheral population and that no subspecies should be recognised.
which bird is known as the sea parrot?
The Atlantic puffin is sturdily built with a thick-set neck and short wings and tail. It is 28 to 30 cm (11 to 12 in) in length from the tip of its stout bill to its blunt-ended tail. Its wingspan is 47 to 63 cm (19 to 25 in) and on land it stands about 20 cm (8 in) high. The male is generally slightly larger than the female, but they are coloured alike. The forehead, crown, and nape are glossy black, as are the back, wings, and tail.
A broad, black collar extends around the neck and throat. On each side of the head is a large, lozenge-shaped area of very pale grey. These face patches taper to a point and nearly meet at the back of the neck. The shape of the head creates a crease extending from the eye to the hindmost point of each patch, giving the appearance of a grey streak. The eye looks almost triangular in shape because of a small, peaked area of horny blue-grey skin above it and a rectangular patch below. The irises are brown or very dark blue and each has red orbital ring.
The under parts of the bird, the breast, belly and under tail coverts, are white. By the end of the breeding season, the black plumage may have lost its shine or even taken on a slightly brown tinge. The legs are short and set well back on the body, giving the bird its upright stance when on land. Both legs and large webbed feet are bright orange, contrasting with the sharp, black claws.
The beak is very distinctive. From the side, the beak is broad and triangular, but viewed from above, it is narrow. The half near the tip is orange-red and the half near to the head is slate grey. A yellow, chevron-shaped ridge separates the two parts, with a yellow, fleshy strip at the base of the bill. At the joint of the two mandibles is a yellow, wrinkled rosette. The exact proportions of the beak vary with the age of the bird.
In an immature individual, the beak has reached its full length, but it is not as broad as that of an adult. With time the bill deepens, the upper edge curves, and a kink develops at its base. As the bird ages, one or more grooves may form on the red portion. The bird has a powerful bite.
The characteristic bright orange bill plates and other facial characteristics develop in the spring. At the close of the breeding season, these special coatings and appendages are shed in a partial moult. This makes the beak appear less broad, the tip less bright, and the base darker grey. The eye ornaments are shed and the eyes appear round. At the same time, the feathers of the head and neck are replaced and the face becomes darker.
When do they not return to land?
This winter plumage is seldom seen by humans because when they have left their chicks, the birds head out to sea and do not return to land until the next breeding season. The juvenile bird is similar to the adult in plumage, but altogether duller with a much darker grey face and yellowish-brown beak tip and legs. After fledging, it makes its way to the water and heads out to sea and does not return to land for several years. In the interim, each year, it will have a broader bill, paler face patches, and brighter legs and beak.
The Atlantic puffin has a direct flight, typically 10 m (35 ft) above the sea surface and higher over the water than most other auks. It mostly moves by paddling along efficiently with its webbed feet and seldom takes to the air. It is typically silent at sea, except for the soft purring sounds it sometimes makes in flight. At the breeding colony, it is quiet above ground, but in its burrow makes a growling sound somewhat resembling a chainsaw being revved up.
The Atlantic puffin is a bird of the colder waters of the North Atlantic Ocean. It breeds on the coasts of northwest Europe, the Arctic fringes, and eastern North America. More than 90% of the global population is found in Europe (4,770,000–5,780,000 pairs, equaling 9,550,000–11,600,000 adults) and colonies in Iceland alone are home to 60% of the world’s Atlantic puffins.
The largest colony in the western Atlantic (estimated at more than 260,000 pairs) can be found at the Witless Bay Ecological Reserve, south of St. John’s, Newfoundland and Labrador. Other major breeding locations include the north and west coasts of Norway, the Faroe Islands, the Shetland and Orkney Islands, the west coast of Greenland, and the coasts of Newfoundland.
Smaller-sized colonies are also found elsewhere in the British Isles, the Murmansk area of Russia, Novaya Zemlya, Spitzbergen, Labrador, Nova Scotia, and Maine. Islands seem particularly attractive to the birds for breeding as compared to mainland sites.
Their distribution in the Atlantic Ocean
While at sea, the bird ranges widely across the North Atlantic Ocean, including the North Sea, and may enter the Arctic Circle. In the summer, its southern limit stretches from northern France to Maine. And in the winter, the bird may range as far south as the Mediterranean Sea and North Carolina.
These oceanic waters have such a vast extent of 15–30 million square kilometres (6–12 million square miles) that each bird has more than 1 km2 at its disposal and they are seldom seen out at sea. In Maine, light level geolocators have been attached to the legs of puffins, which store information on their whereabouts.
The birds need to be recaptured to access the information, a difficult task. One bird was found to have covered 7,700 kilometres (4,800 mi) of ocean in eight months, traveling northwards to the northern Labrador Sea then southeastward to the mid-Atlantic before returning to land.
Like many seabirds, the Atlantic puffin spends most of the year far from land in the open ocean. And it only visits coastal areas to breed. It is a sociable bird and it usually breeds in large colonies.
Atlantic puffins lead solitary existences when out at sea, and this part of their lives has been little studied, as the task of finding even one bird on the vast ocean is formidable. When at sea, the Atlantic puffin bobs about like a cork, propelling itself through the water with powerful thrusts of its feet. And it keeping itself turned into the wind, even when resting and apparently asleep.
It spends much time each day preening to keep its plumage in order and spreads oil from the preen gland. Its downy under-plumage remains dry and provides thermal insulation. In common with other seabirds, its upper surface is black and underside white. This provides camouflage, with aerial predators unable to observe the bird against the dark, watery background. And underwater attackers failing to notice it as it blends in with the bright sky above the waves.
80 kilometers per hour
When it takes off, the Atlantic puffin patters across the surface of the water while vigorously flapping its wings, before launching itself into the air. The size of the wing has adapted to its dual use. Both above and below the water, and its surface area is small relative to the bird’s weight. To maintain flight, the wings need to beat very rapidly at a rate of several times each second. The bird’s flight is direct and low over the surface of the water. And it can travel at 80 km/h (50 mph).
Landing is awkward; it either crashes into a wave crest, or in calmer water, does a belly flop. While at sea, the Atlantic puffin has its annual moult. Land birds mostly lose their primaries one pair at a time to enable them still to be able to fly. But the puffin sheds all its primaries at one time and dispenses with flight entirely for a month or two. The moult usually takes place between January and March. But young birds may lose their feathers a little later in the year.
Food and feeding
The Atlantic puffin diet consists almost entirely of fish, though examination of its stomach contents shows that it occasionally eats shrimp, other crustaceans, molluscs, and polychaete worms, especially in more coastal waters. When fishing, it swims under water using its semiextended wings as paddles to “fly” through the water and its feet as a rudder. It swims fast and can reach considerable depths and stay submerged for up to a minute.
It can eat shallow-bodied fish as long as 18 cm (7 in). But its prey is commonly smaller fish, around 7 cm (3 in) long. An adult bird needs to eat an estimated 40 of these per day—sand eels, herring, sprats. And capelin being the most often consumed. It fishes by sight and can swallow small fish while submerged, but larger specimens are brought to the surface. Puffin can catch several small fish in one dive, holding the first ones in place in its beak with its muscular. The puffin grooved tongue while it catches others.
The two mandibles are hinged in such a way that they can be held parallel to hold a row of fish in place. And these are also retained by inward-facing serrations on the edges of the beak. It copes with the excess salt that it swallows partly through its kidneys and partly by excretion through specialised salt glands in its nostrils.
In the spring, mature birds return to land, usually to the colony where they were hatched. Birds that were removed as chicks and released elsewhere were found to show fidelity to their point of liberation. They congregate for a few days on the sea in small groups offshore before returning to the cliff-top nesting sites. Each large puffin colony is divided into subcolonies by physical boundaries such as stands of bracken or gorse.
Early arrivals take control of the best locations, the most desirable nesting sites being the densely packed burrows on grassy slopes just above the cliff edge where take-off is most easily accomplished. The birds are usually monogamous, but this is the result of their fidelity to their nesting sites rather than to their mates, and they often return to the same burrows year after year.
Later arrivals at the colony may find that all the best nesting sites have already been taken. So they are pushed towards the periphery, where they are in greater danger of predation. Younger birds may come ashore a month or more after the mature birds and find no remaining nesting sites. They do not breed until the following year, although if the ground cover surrounding the colony is cut back before these subadults arrive. The number of successfully nesting pairs may be increased.
Stand at the entrance to the burrow
Atlantic puffins are cautious when approaching the colony. And no bird likes to land in a location where other puffins are not already present. They make several circuits of the colony before alighting. On the ground, they spend much time preening, spreading oil from their preen gland. And they setting each feather in its correct position with beak or claw. They also spend time standing by their burrow entrances and interacting with passing birds.
Dominance is shown by an upright stance, with fluffed chest feathers and cocked tail, an exaggerated slow walk, head jerking, and gaping. Submissive birds lower their heads and hold their bodies horizontal and scurry past dominant individuals. Birds normally signal their intention to take off by briefly lowering their bodies before running down the slope to gain momentum.
If a bird is startled and takes off unexpectedly, a panic can spread through the colony with all the birds launching themselves into the air and wheeling around in a great circle. The colony is at its most active in the evening, with birds standing outside their burrows, resting on the turf or strolling around. Then, the slopes empty for the night as the birds fly out to sea to roost. Often they choosing to do so at fishing grounds ready for early-morning provisioning.
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