Puffins are one of the most well-known and charismatic birds for many, yet
relatively few people have the opportunity to see one in the wild in North
America. They breed on offshore rocky islands, and are typically only seen
in North America by those boating offshore. The species also breeds on the
European side of the Atlantic, and birds tagged on the two continents have been
found to have traveled across the Atlantic to the other continent, indicating
long-term migration and some intermingling of American and European populations.
The birds are very similar in appearance to the
Horned Puffin, a bird of the north Pacific. Atlantic Puffins are the
smallest of the three puffin species (the third species being the
Habitat: Breeds on offshore islands in North America,
with suitable islands having either rocky crevices or soil amenable to burrows
for nesting. They prefer the cold waters of the Atlantic, and outside of
the breeding season, may be found far out to sea.
Diet: Fish makes up a majority of the diet, with
capelin, herring, and sand lance particularly preferred. Most food fed to
the young is also fish. Adults will also consume crustaceans such as
shrimp and copepods, as well as mollusks and marine worms.
Behavior: Food is acquired by swimming underwater and
capturing fish and other prey with their beaks. Atlantic Puffins are capable of
diving to nearly 200 feet, using their wings to "fly" through the water in
search of prey.
Nesting: Atlantic Puffins either nest in
burrows dug by the birds themselves, or in rocky crevices. Nesting burrows
may be 7 feet deep or more.
Song: When in the open ocean and outside of the
breeding season, Atlantic Puffins are generally silent. On breeding
colonies, a harsh groaning is often heard.
Migration: After the breeding season, most birds
disperse far out to sea. They can be found from the edge of the pack ice
in the north, and have wandered as far south as off the coast of Florida in
Conservation Status: Populations declined drastically in the 1800s as both
adult birds and eggs were taken. Declines continue in the southern
part of the North American range, as well as the southern part of the European
range. Disturbance and introduction of predators on nesting colony islands
are the primary reasons for the decline.