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Wild Personalities: Atlantic Puffin

Get to Know These Parrots of the Sea

Order: Charadriiformes

Family: Alcidae

Genus: Fratercula

SpeciesF. arctica

Range: Breeds along the Atlantic coast from the Canadian Maritimes south to Maine. They nest in larger numbers in Norway, Greenland, Canada, Scotland, and especially Iceland which is home to more than half the world's population. Spends the winter at sea.

Population: 12,000,000-14,000,000

IUCN Red List Status: Vulnerable

Key Traits:  Triangular parrot-like beak; orange beak and feet (fades to dull gray after breeding season); distinct black and white plumage; stocky build, can reach 12 inches tall & 1.1 pounds.

Atlantic puffins are always a crowd pleaser when spotted on our expeditions. They are delightful to observe and make for a fun photo opportunity. Watch this video to learn more about these small but mighty seabirds.

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The Atlantic puffin, once known as the common puffin, is one of four puffin species and the only one that inhabits the North Atlantic Ocean. During their summer breeding season, these “parrots of the sea” nest along rocky coastlines where they tend to their chicks in underground burrows. Once coupled up, puffins rarely change mates and return to the same nesting grounds year after year. When the pair reunites on land they rub their beaks together, an endearing behavior known as billing.
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Puffins touching beaks.jpg
When puffins reunite and touch beaks, the ritual often draws a crowd of other puffins.

Puffins are known for their bright orange beaks and feet, but once breeding season ends they fade back to a drab gray. Around this time, puffins also return to their pelagic lifestyle—living far offshore directly over deep waters. These tiny birds are well-adapted to thrive out at sea with waterproof feathers and the ability to drink salt water. Strong swimmers and skilled divers they use their webbed feet like a rudder underwater and their wings like flippers to propel them further down to chase prey.