Fratercula – Puffins

Puffins have a close resemblance with penguins, but the colorful beak and ability to fly help in their differentiation

Puffins are charismatic seabirds that are easily recognizable by their strikingly colorful beaks and contrasting black and white plumage. These birds are often referred to as ‘sea parrots’ or ‘clowns of the sea’ due to their whimsical appearance.

Puffins are well-adapted to life at sea. They spend the majority of their lives on the open ocean, only coming ashore to breed. Their beaks, which are duller in color outside of the breeding season, become bright orange, red, or yellow during the breeding season, aiding in mate selection and social bonding. The size and color pattern of the beak can help distinguish between different species of puffins.

One of the puffin’s most remarkable traits is its swimming ability. Puffins are excellent divers and use their wings to ‘fly’ underwater, propelling themselves with powerful strokes to chase after small fish. They have been recorded diving to depths exceeding 24 meters (80 feet). Their feet, set far back on their bodies, act as rudders, guiding them with precision through their underwater hunts.

Above the surface, puffins are also agile flyers, capable of reaching speeds up to 64 kilometers per hour (40 miles per hour). Their flight involves rapid wing beats, which allows them to cover long distances in search of food. Despite their stocky build and short wings, they are surprisingly adept at maneuvering in the air.

The adaptations of puffins to their cold, northern habitats are numerous. Beneath their skin lies a thick layer of fat that provides insulation against the frigid waters they inhabit. Their plumage is waterproof, with feathers that overlap to trap air, adding an extra layer of warmth. During the harsh winter months, puffins spend their time at sea, where their adaptations protect them from the elements.