About that funny Atlantic Puffin
During the North Atlantic winter, the puffins spend their lives at sea, close to the Arctic ice pack, and as far south as New York and the Canary Islands. Breeding pairs return to land in mid-April. In Atlantic Canada they can be sighted in Nova Scotia and Newfoundland.
The puffin is a striking looking bird, standing about 10 inches tall and weighing about 500
grams. The male and female breeding adults have an orange, yellow and bluish bill and matching
orange legs. Their greyish white face has yellow rosettes at the base of the bill and red rings with
small bluish plate around the eyes. Their heads, backs, and wings are black and their undersides
are white. After breeding season, the puffin sheds its colours and its face becomes dark around
and in front of the eyes. The puffin moults and becomes flightless in late winter, early spring and
then grows new feathers, colourful face and bill plates ready for courting.
When the puffins return to land in Atlantic Canada many return to their “house.” This is often at the end of a burrow in the ground or in a crevice among boulders lines with a nesting material. Puffins normally keep the same mate and the same burrow from year to year, and have to defend their sites against “house-hunters.” The average bird lives about 20 years. After a period of courtship and mating, the
female puffin lays a single egg that is incubated by both parents for approximately six weeks.
After hatching, the baby is left alone once it can maintain its body temperature and the parents
return to sea to bring it food. The babies are generally ready to leave the nest after 40 days, as
long as the food supply has been abundant, and will not return to land until it is ready to breed, in
about four to five years.
The Atlantic Puffin was made the official bird of Newfoundland and Labrador in 1992. More
than 260,000 pairs of the province’s official bird nest in the Witless Islands Ecological Reserve.
The four islands named Gull, Green, Great, and Pee Pee, lie just a few kilometres off the east coast
of Newfoundland’s Avalon Peninsula, between the communities of Bay Bulls and Bauline East,
half an hour south of St. John’s. Regulations govern the operations of boats in the reserve. More
information is available at
In Nova Scotia, the largest puffin colony is in the Bird Islands composed of two islands, Hereford
and Ciboux that lie not that far off Cape Dauphin, off the east coast of the Cape Breton Island
Highlands. A smaller colony makes its home on Pearl Island, located 17 nautical miles east of the
town of Mahone Bay, on the South Shore.
The Atlantic Puffin (fratercula arctica) is one of four species of puffins, but the only species that
lives in the North Atlantic. The puffin belongs to the family of birds called the auks, and related to the
puffin are the dovekie, the murre, the guillemot, the razorbill, the auklet, the murrelet, and the nowextinct great auk. These birds are native to the northern hemisphere and are diving birds, which
use their wings to propel them underwater.
Funny puffin facts: Puffins are poor fliers. They have difficulty becoming airborne and flap
their wings at an amazing 300 to 400 beats per minute to maintain flight. They also have
trouble landing and often crash onto the sea or tumble onto the grass, bowling over other
puffins that get in their way. On land puffins stand upright and walk or hop about with
apparent great care over the uneven terrain of the colony. Puffins are very curious and will
rush over to watch a pair billing or fighting, so that these events are often surrounded by a
crowd of spectators. Source CWF