The Atlantic puffin is a seabird species belonging to family Alcidae. This bird is also known as Common puffin. It is native to the northern Atlantic ocean region. It’s two closely related species are Horned puffin and Tufted puffin, both of which inhabit northeastern Pacific ocean. According to Partners in Flight, their present worldwide breeding population is 12 million.
Kingdom : Animalia
Phylum : Chordata
Class : Aves
Order : Charadriiformes
Family : Alcidae
Genus : Fratercula
Species : F. Arctica
The scientific name for Atlantic puffin is Fratercula arctica.
Its three recognized subspecies are –
Fratercula arctica is a well-built seabird with short wings. The size of an adult tends to be around 29 centimetres in length (from the tip of bill to its tail end). Their wingspan is between 47 to 63 centimetres. On land, adults stand around 20 centimetres tall. Their weight is about 490 to 500 grams. Males are a bit larger than the females. Their nape, crown, forehead, tail, wings and back are glossy black.
They have a wide black collar that stretches around the throat and the neck. On both sides of their head, they have pale grey round shaped area. Both these round patches taper to a point and almost meet each other at the back of the neck. They have brownish or dark bluish round pair of eyes encircled with a thin red ring. They eyes appear triangular from a little distance because of a bluish-grey skin above their eyes. Their underparts, breast, belly as well as under tail coverts are white. Once the breeding season ends, their black feathers lose their shine; and often become a bit brownish. They posses a unique looking beak. If looked from the side, the beak appears triangular and broad; and if viewed from up, it appears narrow. The frontal part of the beak is orange and the back part is greyish. They have short legs and large webbed feet that are bright orange. They have black, sharp claws. The plumage of a juvenile is similar to that of an adult, but overall its duller with dark greyish face along with yellowish-brown bill tip.
During summer months, these species inhabit rocky cliffs in northern Europe and the North Atlantic region. They spend the winter at sea in icy, deep water.
Fratercula arctica breeds in the Faroe Islands, Newfoundland, Greenland, Norway, Iceland, west coast of Ireland, northern Scandinavia, few parts of United Kingdom, northern Russia and the north-west coast of France.
They spend most of their time in open sea/ocean. They usually come ashore during the breeding season. Like Penguins, they walk with little steps, with a clumsy swaying motion. Under water, their feet work as a rudder and they use their wings to generate thrust. They usually feed in shallow waters, but they can go as deep as 200 feet underwater in search of food. In the winter, they forage alone or with another individual. Unlike in non-breeding season, they become social during the breeding season. During this time, they forage in groups of around 7 to 10. Nesting burrows are often placed at close proximity to each other. Mating pairs do not show any aggression to another mating pair. However, they defend their nest with aggression in case of any intrusion. Grappling and clawing are common during fights. This seabird is monogamous. They often come back to the same burrow in the following years. In order to find a new mate, males emit a pig-like grunt and flick its head. Nonbreeding individuals form flocks, and they spend their time by flying long hours following a wide circular path.
This bird breed when they are five years old. The nest is made in a burrow lined with feathers and grass. Female generally lay one egg, which is white (often marked with pale purple or brown spots). Incubation goes on for 36 to 45 days and it is done by both sexes. Both male and female feed the young by carrying small fish in their bill. The juveniles (also called pufflings) leave the nest when they are 38 to 45 days old. They mostly leave the nest at night, flying right out at the sea.
The Atlantic puffins feed on fishes, such as Herring, Cod, hake and Sand lance among others. They often catch a handful of fishes in one dive. They also feed on crustaceans and molluscs.
In its natural habitat, their lifespan is around 20 to 30 years.
They mostly stay silent. Males produce a grunt during the breeding season. At times, they also emit growling sounds.
Their present worldwide population is in millions, but climate change and warming of oceans could prove to be fatal in years to come.
In the sea, their predators include seals and large fishes. Their aerial predators include Great black-backed gull and Great skua.
The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species has kept Atlantic puffin in the ‘Vulnerable’ category. In 2018, the BirdLife International called it a threatened species.
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