The beautiful puffin seabird is easy to recognise with its mix of black and white feathers, stark against its large, brightly coloured bill, red and black eye markings and bright orange legs.
Called the ‘clown among seabirds’ by the RSPB, puffins are identified as one of the world’s favourite birds. Unfortunately, they are on the ‘Red List’ for conservation concern.
Puffins are best sighted at a breeding colony. We are lucky to have one of only two puffin breeding colonies in Cornwall on our doorstep, with an island locally known as “Puffin Island” just off Padstow. Adult puffins in Cornwall are spotted when they return to breed in March and April, where they stay until around mid to late July. They reach breeding age at around five years of age and can live for around 20 years, returning to the same breeding site each year.
When they first return to the breeding colony, the puffins spend time on the sea in flocks. They move on to the land and to make a nesting burrow in the soil, under boulders or in cliff cavities; often using the same burrow from a previous year. Here they lay a single egg and once it hatches both parents share the feeding duties; nesting in our area from mid-April to mid-July.
In the winter months, they move offshore in the Atlantic or North Sea, or move further south to the Bay of Biscay.
How to identify Puffins
- Puffins are distinctive with black plumage on their backs and white underparts, black heads with large pale cheeks and bright orange legs.
- During breeding season, their large, flattened bills turn brightly coloured.
- The puffin is part of the Auk family of medium-sized seabirds that have long bodies with short legs that give them a distinctive waddle on land.
Book a boat trip
Book a boat trip during breeding season and you might see puffins using the rugged coastline off Cornwall as their breeding colony. It is a fun and safe way to see some amazing scenery and sealife. Our puffin boat trips are a truly magical experience, especially with puffins normally being very hard to find. For more information and images, find us on Facebook here or see more information on our website.
What do Puffins eat?
The adults eat mostly small fish,such as sand eels and herring. They’re not picky though, in the winter if times get tough they’ll eat crustaceans too. As for the babies their parents feed them several times a day, either by carrying the fish straight down to them using their bills or dropping them onto the burrow floor.
Even though the fish they eat are quite small they come in big quantities. Puffins carry loads of fish in there beaks at a time! The normal catch is around 10 fish per trip but the puffin world record is a colossal 83 fish at once!! Now that’s one full family. They’re made for it though, their peaks are specialised to hold all of those slippery fish. Their raspy tongues holds fish against spines on the palate, while it opens its beak to catch more fish!!
Can Puffins fly?
The short answer is yes. And they’re quite fast too! Amazingly our feathered friends can reach speeds of up to 55mph (88 km/hr) which is pretty fast for such a small bird. Their wings beat rapidly, reaching up to 400 beats a minute, in fact from afar the flying puffin doesn’t look dissimilar to that of a black and white football!
Where do Horned Puffins live
Horned puffins or Fratercula corniculata, the close relatives of our Atlantic Puffin live slightly further afield than the Cornish coastline. Commonly found around the chilly Russian islands, they can also be found off the coast of Japan and Queen Charlotte Island in British Columbia, on occasion even as far south as California! They’re not big travellers though – horned puffins tend to stay in the breeding grounds all year round unless the ground is iced over or their homes are destroyed.
Our Atlantic Puffins on the other hand stay in their colonies from April to July and then from July to early spring, take to the open ocean. Puffins spread far and wide during these months making it very difficult for scientists to keep up. They make the perfect sea birds, ideally adapted with their waterproof feathers and amazing capability to drink salt water – plus a sea full of delicious fish!
How long does a Puffin live?
As a general rule, the larger the bird the longer it lives, so the puffins rack up a respectable age of 20 years, usually more – in fact the oldest Puffin recorded lived to be 38! In order to track the ages of the Puffins, small tags are attached to the birds legs. However this doesn’t always mean they’re reliable. Many get worn by the rocks and corroded by the sea, making them near impossible to read. So until tag-making science catches up that’s the best guess we’ve got!
Are Puffins related to Penguins?
You’d be surprised how many people ask if puffins and penguins are related. Both share similar black and white feather colouration; names begin with ‘P’ and they both love a fish breakfast – surely they’re related?
No they’re actually not! Penguins belong to the family spheniscidae, an order of flightless birds living in the southern hemisphere whereas Puffins are part of the Alcidae family of Auks, recognised for their ability to “fly” under water as well as in the air. Although they are excellent swimmers and divers, their walking appears clumsy.
Penguins bones are pretty much solid. This is necessary as they need to be less buoyant while swimming so they can dive down and grab all those tasty fish. Puffins on the other hand, like most birds have hollow bones giving them the ability to fly. Penguins also live exclusively in the Southern hemisphere – all 18 species; whereas all 4 species of puffins all live up north. There is one very real similarity they both share though, they’re both in trouble because of us! Overfishing, pollution, climate change and introduced predators means these fantastic birds are on the decline.
What does Puffin mean
Going back to its origin, Puffin is derived for the word ‘puff’ meaning swollen. When looking at a Puffin chick, it’s hardly a surprise, as their fully dense feathers really do make the little chick round – advantageous for retaining body heat while parents are off fishing for them. Their scientific name is Fratercula arctica, which dates way back to the 1800s and means “little brother of the north” which alludes to “little friar”. This is because the black and white markings on its feathers look like a friar’s robe. Alternatively puffins sometimes hold their feet together when taking off, much like hands clasped together in prayer.
The puffin also has several nicknames. “Clown of the sea” and “sea parrot” thanks to it’s brightly coloured face and feet!
What is a group of Puffins called
- A Circus
- A Puffinry
- A Burrow
- A Gathering
- An Improbability
- A Raft
- A Loomery
Book a boat trip
Book a boat trip during breeding season and you might see puffins using the rugged coastline off Cornwall as their breeding colony. It is a fun and safe way to see some amazing scenery and sealife. For more information and images, find us on Facebook here or see more information on our website.