Atlantic Puffin (Fratercula arctica)

Baccalieu Island Ecological Reserve has the second largest colony of breeding Atlantic Puffins in North America.

Puffins are considered one of the most lovable birds in the world, because of their clownlike faces and their funny way of skipping along the water when landing or taking off, not unlike a football. The name Puffin originally meant "fatling". The Puffin is known by many local names, such as "Sea Parrot".

Puffins eat mostly small fish like capelin, and it is common to see these little birds with their mouths stuffed full, adding to their comical look. Their beak is adapted to hold all these fish, with its raspy tongue holding them against the spines on their palate.

All puffins are generally alone while at sea and are rarely seen from land except around nesting burrows. Puffins dig burrows about 2 to 3 feet long using their bills and feet in the earth or rocks on steep cliffs, so they are out of the reach of predators. Adults in colonies give variations on a low, unmusical moaning or bellowing with slight pitch changes, like the sound of a distant chain saw. Puffins have a sophisticated system of using their body positioning and mannerisms to communicate everything from courting rituals and aggression displays, to territorial rights.

Puffins tend to fly higher than other alcids, up to 30 feet above the water. They can fly up to 55 miles per hour, with their wings beating 400 beats a minute, making them a blur. Puffins seem more at home "flying" under water, using their wings to push themsleves along, while using their feet as a rudder. Their dives can last up to a minute, when they "pop" up to the surface like a cork.

Puffins live surprisingly long, often up to 20 years or more! Their colourful beaks serve a purpose.... During the winter, their bills and feet turn a dull gray, and then turn back to orange in preparation for breeding. The size of the beak signals to other puffins that they are a preferential mate. When courting on land, the puffins rub their beaks together, called "billing". Puffins lay 1 egg per year, often using the same burrow as the year before. Both the mother and father Puffin tend to the nest and rear the chick.

Their fiercest predator is the Great Black-Backed Gull, also an inhabitant of Baccalieu Island. They can pick a Puffin right out of the air by surprising it from above. Herring Gulls are also a threat to the Puffin, as they often lay in wait to steal the food right out of their mouths as they return to their chicks in the burrows. While it is hard to think of these cute little birds as food for other larger birds, as always it is "survival of the fittest", and they serve a purpose in supporting the Gull populations.

Puffins are wonderfully photogenic, and people never cease to be amused and amazed by these comical little birds.

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