All About Puffins – Puffins, scientific name Fratercula arctica meaning “Little Brother of the North,” have also been given many nicknames over time due to their unique black plumage and brightly colored beaks and feet. “Clown of the Ocean,” “Sea Parrot,” and “Little Friar” are a few names that have stuck. These little birds have proven themselves to be resilient survivors in the true spirit of Maine. Please share your Maine Puffin comments. To feature your Maine business, contact us.
The puffin averages about 10 inches tall and weighs in at about 16 ounces. There are four species of Puffins. The Atlantic Puffin, or Common Puffin and can be found at various points in the North Atlantic Ocean and along the Canadian and Maine coastlines. There are also the Horned Puffin, Tufted Puffin, and Rhinoceros Auklet which can be found off the California coast and the coast of Asia. Puffins can live over 20 years and usually don’t breed until they are around 5 years old. Puffins lay only 1 egg per year among rocks and burrows that they dig, and the male and female share parenting duties. Puffins are a close-knit community that congregate together for protection from predators.
Puffins communicate by using body movements and can make low growling sounds similar to a muffled chainsaw when protecting their young.
Puffins are a true sea bird and spend most of their lives living in the open sea. They come back to land to breed and raise their young and have very particular nesting grounds. Over-hunting in the early colonization years and increased human activity near these nesting grounds had significantly diminished the Puffins numbers to threatened status in Maine. In 1973 Dr. Stephen Kress started a program with the National Audubon Society called Project Puffin to help the puffins re-establish a colony on Eastern Egg Rock off the mid-coast of Maine. Dr. Kress and his colleagues moved young puffins from a large nesting colony in Newfoundland to Eastern Egg Rock. The hope was that the puffins would grow to think of this as their home, and would return to raise their own young there eventually. Dr. Kress’s team placed decoy birds on the island in 1977 to lure the curious birds back to the island. The puffins started returning that summer. Today, there are 104 nesting pairs of puffins on the island from the 4 returning pairs from 1981. This very successful technique of the Puffin Project has since been used for bird re-population with more than 40 seabird species in 12 countries.
- There are four kinds of puffins.
- The Atlantic or common puffin is the only one found in Maine. To see a horned puffin or a tufted puffin, you would have to visit the Pacific coast. The rhinoceros auklet is also considered a type of puffin, although it does not look much like the others.
- The Atlantic puffin’s scientific name is Fratercula arctica, which means “little brother of the north” in Latin. The name can also be interpreted as “little friar,” a reference to its black and white coloring.
- Puffins may look like penguins, but they’re not related. Puffins live only in the northern hemisphere while penguins live only in the southern hemisphere (unless they are in zoos).
- Puffins eat small fish such as herring, hake, smelt, and capelin, but they have also been known to eat crustaceans in the winter.
- Puffins can drink salt water.
- Each year, a puffin will return to nest on the same island, and often even in the same burrow in the rocks.
- Puffins can live to be 20 to 30 years old.
- Puffins can both fly and swim very well, and when they swim they use their wings to propel themselves through the water, steering with their feet.
- Puffins mate for life.
- Female puffins lay only one egg each year. A baby puffin is called a chick or a puffling.
- After the summer breeding season, puffins become less colorful.
- The great black-backed gull and the herring gull are the main natural predators of the puffin. Increasing numbers of gulls were preventing the puffins from returning to their nesting grounds, so scientists have helped protect the puffins by reducing nearby gull populations.
- Adult puffins make a noise that sounds like groaning. Young puffins tend to make a peeping sound when they are hungry.
For $100, you can adopt your very own puffin for a nesting season! You’ll get a certificate of adoption and a biography and a color photo of your puffin. Adoption fees help support the biologists who study and protect these fascinating birds. Puffin adoptions make great gifts for that friend or relative who has everything!