The puffin bird is a cute arctic animal with a funny look and movement. On the ground, he moves, holding the body vertically, comically rearranging short legs. When the bird comes in for landing, it frantically flaps its small wings, trying to stay in the air, and stretches its paws like a landing gear, braking them. Puffins live in colonies and are very curious and tame birds that can perform unexpected pirouettes in flight.
Origin of the species and description
Dead End — a species of sea birds that are in the order Charadriiformes and belonging to the auk family (Alcidae). Atlantic Puffin — the only species of the genus Fratercula living in the Atlantic Ocean. Two other species are found in the Pacific Northeast: puffin (Fratercula cirrhata) and puffin (Fratercula corniculata), the latter of which is the closest relative of the Atlantic puffin. The rhinoceros puffin (C. monocerata) and the Atlantic puffin are also closely related. Fossils have been found of the extinct closest relative of the puffin, the Pleistocene bird Fratercula dowi.
Video: Puffin bird
The generic name Fratercula comes from the medieval Latin word Fratercula (monk), since the black and white plumage of a feathered bird resembles monastic robes. The specific name arctica comes from the Greek ἄρκτος (“arktos”), bear and refers to the constellation Ursa Major. Russian name “dead end” — indicates a massive feathered beak and comes from the word “blunt”.
There are three generally recognized subtypes:
- F. arctica arctica;
- F. arctica naumanni;
- F. arctica grabae.
The only morphological difference between them — these are their settings. Body length + beak size + wing length, which increase at higher latitudes. For example, a puffin from northern Iceland (subspecies F. a. naumanii) weighs about 650 g and has a wing length of 186 mm, while a representative of the Faroe Islands (subspecies F. a. Grabae) weighs 400 g and has a wing length of 158 mm. Individuals from southern Iceland (subspecies F. a. arctica) are intermediate between them.
Appearance and Features
The Atlantic puffin is strongly built, with a large neck, short wings and tail. It is 28 to 30 cm long from the tip of its thick beak to the blunt tail. The wingspan is from 49 to 63 cm. The male is usually slightly larger than the female, but the same color. The forehead and nape are glossy black, as are the back, wings and tail. Wide black collar, located around the neck. On each side of the head is a large, diamond-shaped area of pale grey. These spots on the face taper to a certain point and almost meet at the back of the neck.
The beak looks like a triangle from the side, but when viewed from above it is narrow. Half at the tip is orange-red and half at the head — slate grey. The exact proportions of the beak vary with the age of the bird. In an immature individual, the beak is not as wide as in an adult bird. Over time, the beak deepens, the upper edge bends, and a kink develops at its base. The bird has a strong bite.
Interesting fact: The beak is of great importance for attracting a partner. In the spring, during the breeding season, the characteristic bright orange color of the beak appears.
The eyes appear almost triangular in shape due to a small, pointed area of horny blue-gray skin near them and a rectangular spot below. The pupils are brown or dark blue and each has a red orbital ring. The lower part of the bird is covered with white plumage. By the end of the breeding season, the plumage is black, losing its luster and even turning brown. The legs are short and well laid back, providing the bird with a straight stance on land. Both legs and large webbed feet are bright orange, contrasting with sharp black claws.
Where does the puffin live?
The breeding area of this species includes the coasts and especially the islands of the northern Atlantic and the western polar sea. In the Nearctic, the puffin breeds along the Atlantic coast of North America from Labrador to Maine and Greenland. The southernmost breeding colonies in the Western Atlantic are in the Gulf of Maine, the northernmost — on Coburg Island in Baffin Bay.
In Europe, this species breeds in Iceland, Jan Mayen, Svalbard, Medvezhiy Island and Novaya Zemlya, along the coast of Murmansk to the southern part of Norway, the Faroe Islands, Great Britain and Ireland, and also locally on the coast of Sweden.
Nesting countries include:
- Northern Canada;
- Nova Scotia;
- northwest coast of France.
Outside of the breeding season, from late August to early April, puffins live exclusively on the high seas. The puffins seem to be scattered across the Atlantic, either singly or in small groups. Winter settlements seem to cover the entire northern Atlantic from south to North Africa, as well as the western Mediterranean. The largest puffin colony in Russia is located on Ainovskie near Murmansk. Insignificant bird settlements are found on Novaya Zemlya and the northern coast of the Kola Peninsula.
Now you know where the northern puffin seabird lives. Let’s see what she eats.
What does the puffin eat?
The diet of the Atlantic puffin consists almost entirely of fish, although examination of the contents of the stomach shows that sometimes the bird eats shrimp, other crustaceans, mollusks and polychaete worms, especially in coastal waters. When fishing, the puffin swims underwater, using its elongated wings as an oar to “fly” underwater, and the legs of the — like a steering wheel. It swims fast and can reach considerable depths and stay underwater for up to a minute.
The bird eats small fish up to 18 cm long, but the prey is usually smaller fish, about 7 cm long. An adult bird should eat about 40 pieces per day — eels, herring, sprats and capelin are most commonly consumed. The puffin can swallow small fish while underwater, but larger specimens are brought to the surface. It can catch several small fish in one dive, holding them in its beak with a muscular grooved tongue, and catch others until the entire length of the beak is full. The catch can be up to 30 fish at a time. The nutritional requirement of adult birds is 80 to 100 grams per day. In the largest part of the range, fish are the main food for chicks.
Fun Fact: During the breeding season, puffin feeding grounds are usually located in the waters of the continental shelf and no more than ten kilometers from the breeding colony. However, isolated colonies of puffins have been found in Newfoundland that have delivered fish from seventy kilometers away. Puffins can dive up to seventy meters, but usually find food at shallower depths.
Ten puffins, which were surveyed more accurately over 17 days off the coast of Newfoundland, were found to have a maximum diving depth of 40 to 68 meters, and ten puffins off the Norwegian coast had a maximum diving depth of 10 to 45 meters. Dive time in 80% of cases was shorter than 39 seconds. The maximum period of the bird being under water was 115 seconds. Breaks between dives lasted less than 20 seconds in 95% of cases.
Character and lifestyle features
The Atlantic puffin has a direct flight, usually 10 m above the sea surface, higher than most other birds. It walks straight, in flight it makes a low, purring sound, and during nesting, the sounds resemble grunts and groans. Atlantic puffins lead a solitary existence when they are at sea, and this part of their life is little studied, since the task of finding even one bird in the vast ocean is difficult.
When at sea, the Atlantic puffin sways like a cork, propelling itself through the water with powerful kicks of its feet and holding itself up in the wind, even when at rest and visibly asleep. Every day he spends a lot of time cleaning to keep his plumage in order. Its downy ventral feathers stay dry and insulate.
Fun fact: Like other seabirds, its upper feathers are black and its under feathers are white. This provides protective camouflage, as aerial predators cannot see it against a dark, watery background, and underwater attackers cannot see a bird when it blends into the bright sky above the waves.
When the puffin takes off it flaps its wings vigorously before taking off into the air. The size of the wing is adapted for dual use, both above and below water, its surface area is small compared to the weight of the bird. To maintain flight, the wings beat very quickly at a rate of several times per second. The bird flies straight and low above the surface of the water and can travel at a speed of 80 km per hour.
The landing is clumsy, he either crashes into the crest of a wave, or falls on his stomach in calm water. While at sea, the Atlantic puffin molts. It sheds all its feathers at once and goes without flying for about a month or two. Moulting usually occurs between January and March, but young birds may lose their feathers a little later.
Social Structure and Reproduction
Arrivals in the colonies occur from early to mid-April, in the Northern Ocean, arrivals vary greatly depending on snowmelt. At the breeding site, the birds arrive already mated. Puberty in birds occurs 3 & # 8212; 5 years. Puffins live in a monogamous seasonal fashion, with the vast majority of couples having been together since the previous year. Copulation occurs only on water. After copulation, partners slowly swim around each other.
The brood is usually self-dug caves. Rarely, but depending on the area, burrows are captured from other animals. Sometimes broods are organized in horizontal rock crevices or between boulders. The entrance to the cave is protected by the male, the female equips the inside of the cave. Holes are pulled out by a beak, loose materials are raked out by paws. The caves have a maximum length of 0.75 to 1.50 m, rarely up to 3 m. The hole is 30-40 cm wide, the diameter of the passage is about 12.5 cm, and the nest chamber has a diameter of 30 to 40 cm.
Males stay with females throughout the breeding season, and pairs often sit outside the burrow. Eggs are laid between June and July and there is usually only one egg per pair. The eggs are round, white, often with brown spots. Both parents incubate the egg by placing the egg under one wing and leaning on it with their bodies. Incubation lasts about 42 days. It takes 36 to 50 days for chicks to fledge, the length of this period depends on the abundance of food. By this time, the chicks will reach approximately 75% of their mature weight.
During the last few days underground, the chick sheds its down and juvenile plumage is revealed. Its relatively small beak, legs and feet are dark in color, and it lacks white spots on its face. The chick finally leaves its nest at night, when the risk of predation is minimal. He emerges from his hole at night and runs towards the sea. He can’t fly properly yet, so going down the cliff is dangerous. When the chick reaches the water, it enters the sea and may be up to 3 km from the shore by dawn.
Natural enemies of puffins
Birds are safest at sea. Puffins can often be seen sticking their heads under the water to see if there are predators nearby. It is known that seals kill puffins, and any predatory large fish can also do this. Most of the colonies are located on small islands, and this is no coincidence, since it avoids predation by terrestrial mammals: foxes, rats, ermines, weasels, etc. But when the birds come ashore, they are still in danger, because the main threat comes from sky.
Atlantic puffin predators in the sky include:
- sea gull (L. marinus);
- great skua (Stercorarius skua).
As well as other species of similar size that can catch a bird in flight or attack birds that cannot escape quickly on the ground. Upon detecting danger, puffins take off and fly down to the sea or retreat into their burrows, but if caught, they defend themselves vigorously with their beak and sharp claws. When puffins circle around rocks, it becomes very difficult for a single-bird predator to catch them, while individuals isolated on the ground are at greater risk.
Fun fact: Ixodid ticks and fleas (Ornithopsylla laetitiae) have been found in puffin nests. Other flea species found on birds include C. borealis, C. gallinae, C. garei, C. vagabunda, and the common flea S. cuniculi.
Smaller species of gulls, such as the herring gull (L. argentatus), are unlikely to bring down an adult puffin. They move through the colony, picking up eggs or hatchlings that have moved too far away from the nest for daylight. These gulls also steal fish from puffins returning to feed their young. In places where the puffin and Arctic Skua (S. parasiticus) nest together, the latter becomes a terrestrial predator. In the air, it harasses puffins, causing them to drop prey, which it then snatches.
Population and species status
The global population size is estimated at 12 — 14 million mature individuals. The European population is estimated at 4,770,000 — 5,780,000 pairs, which corresponds to 9,550,000 — 11,600,000 mature individuals. Europe is home to 90% of puffins, so the projected decline is of global significance. The overall trend in the West Atlantic population is unknown. It is possible that the overall decline could reach the range of 30 — 49% over three generations.
Fun fact: Puffin numbers are expected to decline rapidly as a result of the combined effects of predation by invasive species, pollution, food shortages caused by depleted fisheries and mortality of adult birds in fishing nets.
The number of puffins peaked at the end of the 20th century in the North Sea, including the Isle of May and the Farne Islands, where the number of individuals increased by about 10% per year. In the 2013 breeding season, about 40,000 pairs were recorded on the Farne Islands, a slight increase from 2008. This number is less than in the Icelandic colonies with five million breeding pairs.
On the Vestmangde Islands, birds are almost became extinct due to overhunting from 1900 and a 30-year ban was introduced. When the population recovered, a different method was used and hunting is maintained at a sustainable level. Since 2000, there has been a sharp decline in the number of puffins in Iceland, Norway, the Faroe Islands and Greenland. A similar trend is observed in the United Kingdom, where earlier growth has been reversed. The puffin is gradually leaving Europe, its population is estimated to be reduced by 50 — 79% during 2020 — 2065